- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

President Clinton, admittedly struggling with campaign withdrawal, is keeping busy by taking on the role of strategist for Vice President Al Gore.

"Most days I'm OK about not being on the ballot," Mr. Clinton said Friday at a Democratic fund-raiser in Philadelphia, "and the other days that I'm not OK about it you have the Constitution to protect you."

Mr. Clinton longs to make the case against Texas Gov. George W. Bush, but he believes Mr. Gore can prevail in November, despite gloomy polls, by contrasting his views on tax cuts and Social Security with those of the presumptive Republican nominee.

During a luncheon for the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Clinton asked what voters think the issue is.

"And I believe that this question is: What are we going to do with this moment of prosperity?" If that is the question voters ask, Mr. Clinton said, "then I believe the vice president will be elected because he understands the future and he knows how to get us there."

Mr. Bush sees Mr. Clinton's increased role in the Gore campaign as a compliment.

"I'm not running against the president, I'm running against his vice president," Mr. Bush said May 12 in an interview with NBC's "Today" show.

"But I view it as good news. I must have them awfully worried for the president to be spending time talking about my campaign."

Mr. Bush has proposed a series of centrist measures in recent weeks: free child-safety locks on handguns, a five-year plan to help Americans care for elderly relatives and a "silver scholarship" to reward seniors who tutor students for 500 hours per year.

Mr. Bush also pointedly told Fox News over the weekend that he is seriously considering Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who is pro-choice, to be his running mate in November.

"I'll consider Tom Ridge. He is a friend of mine," Mr. Bush said. "He has been a good governor of the state of Pennsylvania, and he's under serious consideration, as are a lot of other people."

Meanwhile, Mr. Gore dispatches daily broadsides against Mr. Bush, deriding his Social Security plan and calling him a captive of the National Rifle Association. Democratic leaders reportedly are considering a soft-money barrage of ads critical of Mr. Bush.

Mr. Clinton on Friday publicly urged Mr. Gore to run a positive campaign and fight a battle of ideas over tax cuts and Social Security.

"What I hope will happen is that we will not have a mean election," Mr. Clinton said. "We don't have to say that they're bad people; we should assume they're honorable people and that they mean to do exactly what they say."

Democrats believe they can win on issues, despite Mr. Gore's high personal negativity ratings.

Mr. Bush led Mr. Gore by 5 points, 49 percent to 44 percent, in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted May 7 to May 10. But respondents said Mr. Gore would do a better job safeguarding Social Security and securing a prescription drug benefit for the elderly.

Mr. Clinton outlined his strategy a day after Mr. Gore's brain trust met in Nashville, Tenn., and tried to figure how to halt the vice president's slide in recent polls.

Mr. Clinton says the vice president should start by emphasizing the nation's prosperity.

"It's clear that our country is in better shape than it was eight years ago, that we are moving in the right direction and we not only have the longest economic expansion in history, and the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, we have got declining poverty, declining inequality, the lowest minority unemployment rates we have ever recorded."

Mr. Clinton said the vice president should discuss "a huge difference" in economic policy that "cannot be papered over."

He said Mr. Gore should push for targeted tax cuts instead of Mr. Bush's across-the-board tax cut.

"Our belief is that we ought to have a targeted tax cut that will help people do the essential things take care of elderly or disabled family members, send their kids to college, pay for child care, help them raise their children if they're making very low incomes," said Mr. Clinton.

"Their position is that we should have a huge across-the-board tax cut and other costly items that I believe would ensure that we would go back to deficit spending and that would drive interest rates up again," he said. "It would make it very difficult to keep the expansion going."

Mr. Clinton acknowledged that at first glance, Mr. Bush's Social Security plan "sounds reasonable." Mr. Bush proposes to safeguard the benefits of retirees and near-retirees and allow younger workers to invest 2 percent of their payroll taxes in the stock market.

Mr. Clinton said he would note that a third of Social Security money goes to care for disabled people, for whom a downturn in the stock market would prove critical.

He said Mr. Bush must explain the "big transition costs" of taking 2 percent of payroll taxes out of the system.

"If you put this on top of the big tax cut they propose, we'll certainly be in deficits. If the economy goes down, all these discussions become academic because the numbers just get terrible," he said.

Instead, Mr. Clinton said, Mr. Gore should propose to "fix the problem without running the risk" by paying down the deficit, applying the interest savings to the Social Security Trust Fund, to extend its life past the baby boom.

Mr. Gore spent much of last year distancing himself from Mr. Clinton. But the Democratic duo recently teamed for a star-studded Democratic fund-raiser in Southern California.

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