- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2000

President Clinton's road trip for Al Gore, which begins tomorrow in California, might save the state for the vice president by rallying core Democrats but it could also turn off moderate voters in other states.

Still, with the vice president trailing George W. Bush less than a week before the election, that is a chance the Democrats are willing to take.

"I think there is far more to be gained by having Bill Clinton raise the hopes and aspirations of the Democratic base than there is to be lost by having him offend marginal voters," said Democratic strategist Scott Segal.

"Clinton is an inexpensive way to counter $2 million worth of spending by George W. Bush in California," he added. "And even if he takes some hits by having a little bit of media coverage that's shown for 10 seconds on the nightly newscasts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or Orlando, Florida, it's still worth it."

Some Republicans concede that Mr. Clinton will likely reverse the vice president's slide in California, where a 14-point lead over Mr. Bush has been cut in half. But they insist the president will cost Mr. Gore votes elsewhere by reminding voters of Clinton scandals.

"I agree with the Democrats when they say it will impact locally," said former GOP pollster Pete Snyder. "Sure, it will take what looks like a seven-point race and blow it out to a nine- or 12-point race.

"But I'm talking wider coverage nationally," he added. "This is not sending the right message. It's not sending a message of strength. And the fringe effects nationally are not going to be positive and are not going to be minimal."

Mr. Snyder said the Clinton-Gore camp is taking a particular risk with fence-sitters because "nine times out of 10, undecideds usually don't go with the incumbent."

Mr. Gore is trying to dispatch his boss on a kind of stealth campaign, narrowly targeting black audiences and other core Democrats while avoiding the national spotlight as much as possible in order to limit collateral damage among moderates.

But the 11th-hour injection of Mr. Clinton into the race is expected to attract widespread national coverage.

For months, there have not been enough reporters traveling with the president to justify the chartering of a plane by the White House travel office.

But many journalists who have stayed away from Mr. Clinton will return for tomorrow's trip, packing a plane that will shadow Air Force One throughout a campaign swing that kicks off tomorrow in Los Angeles and lasts several days.

To mitigate coverage that links the vice president to Mr. Clinton, Gore aides have quietly encouraged stories of ill will between the two men. But Republicans and even some Democrats believe there is plenty of behind-the-scenes collusion between Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton.

"It's a case of having your cake and eating it, too," Mr. Segal said. "You want to bask in the sunlight of Clinton's communications skills while avoiding getting burned by the character issue. So how do you do that? You use the president strategically while appearing anguished all the while."

He added: "To me, it's a perfect strategic use of Bill Clinton. Although I might have trotted him out before the final week to immunize myself from the charge that I'm getting desperate."

Mr. Snyder disagreed.

"If I were Al Gore, I wouldn't get near Clinton," he said. "Gore running around with Clinton in California sends a negative message. I mean, the subtext of that is: too close to call; needs to pull all guns."

By contrast, Mr. Bush is sending a positive message by campaigning in California, even though Republicans acknowledge he will probably lose the state.

"Why is Bush going to California? These guys really don't think they're going to win the state," Mr. Snyder said. "They're going out there because they want to ride momentum and they want to drive home the point to the media that this guy's confident, this guy's a winner.

"I don't think Austin makes all the right decisions all the time," he added. "But frankly, I agree with them on this one."

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