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Clinton Makes Public Reappearance In Worcester; Gets a Warm Reception

By Ceci Connolly
The Washington Post
WORCESTER, Mass.

In his first public appearance since telling Americans he misled them about his 18-month affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, President Clinton attempted to change the subject Thursday to safe schools, terrorism and Hurricane Bonnie.

Everywhere he went in this blue-collar Democratic stronghold, Clinton was greeted enthusiastically by supporters. A smaller, but vocal, contingent of protesters held signs with foreboding messages such as "Liar," "Cheat," "Resign" and "Impeach." One waved a scarlet A.

Despite earlier hints from aides that Clinton might use Thursday's break from the first family's vacation to again address the Lewinsky scandal, he made no mention of the controversy.

The stated purpose of the event was to announce a $30 million scholarship program for aspiring police officers and to release a teacher's guide for detecting troubled youth.

Clinton's political team regarded the day as something of an experiment, a tentative step toward normalcy after weeks in which the Lewinsky investigation has been a near-total preoccupation. It came amid signs that the bleeding of support Clinton has suffered has begun to stabilize.

In recent days, Clinton has phoned what one aide estimated were about 20 members of Congress, mostly Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, but some Republicans as well. The message, as one senior adviser described it, was one of "apology, explanation, and taking responsibility."

Since Gephardt's Monday comments refusing to rule out the possibility of impeachment, he and Democrats have begun to speak more positively of the president. Daschle, who was reported to be furious at Clinton, urged Democrats to shift their focus from scandal back to policy. "We've got to get back on the agenda, not to change the subject but because that is what the American people want," Daschle said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.

A new poll, meanwhile, found Clinton's approval ratings still holding steady, and that the controversy has done no noticeable damage to Democratic prospects this fall. But Clinton's personal ratings took another beating in the survey by the Pew Research Center, with 62 percent saying they do not like the president, compared with 53 percent in February.

Still unclear is when Clinton plans to go ahead with what aides expect will be a further explanation to the public. The president had discussed making some passing reference to his personal problems and his effort to recover from them at Thursday's event, but he decided late Wednesday night to avoid the subject.