- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

LOS ANGELES President Clinton yesterday declared that an Al Gore presidency would be "the next best thing" to a third Clinton term.

Replied the George W. Bush campaign: "Thank you for making our case."

The president acknowledged that he would cost the vice president votes if he campaigned at his side.

"Frankly, it would have been inappropriate for me to be out there campaigning with him," Mr. Clinton said in a radio interview transcript released late yesterday. "It would have hurt him with some people, because as he said in his convention speech, he has to run for president as his own man. He has to be elected on his own."

The president disputed assertions by Mr. Gore that he has the momentum, and acknowledged that the governor appears to be winning.

"All these polls that show it close and show Governor Bush a point or two ahead," the president said. "All those polls are premised on an assumption that African-American and Hispanic voters and first-generation immigrants will not vote in the same percentages that the Republican base will vote."

The president made the remarks in an interview with Tom Joyner, a popular black radio talk-show host. "Sincerely, it would be nice if we could get four more years from you," Mr. Joyner said. "It's been a good eight years for us."

"But you can get the next best thing," Mr. Clinton replied.

"Enough said," remarked Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes, when told of the president's comments. "Thank you for making our case."

Mr. Clinton tried to rally California Democrats yesterday in a last-minute bid to stop the state from slipping into the Texas governor's column.

Mr. Clinton agreed not to appear in crucial tossup states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Louisiana for fear of alienating scandal-weary independents and further energizing Republicans. He obtained Mr. Gore's blessing to stump in his home state of Arkansas over the weekend.

By likening a Gore presidency to a third term for himself, Gore aides worry that Mr. Clinton reminded scandal-weary independents of the similarities between the two men. The president's comments were the latest in a weeklong effort to energize black voters to vote for Mr. Gore.

"You've go to show up Tuesday," he said to the national radio audience. "I'll tell you, we've got to win this election and I feel very strongly that we're going to win it if our folks vote."

Mr. Clinton sketched out a scenario in which the vice president ekes out a razor-thin victory by staging a dramatic, come-from-behind rally in the final 100 hours of the campaign.

"John Kennedy won by four-tenths of 1 percent," he recalled. "Hubert Humphrey lost by a percent. Jimmy Carter won by a percent. One vote out of a hundred. This race could well be that close.

"And I can tell you there are at least five states today that are within 1 percent. There are another five states that are within 2 percent. That's how close this election is."

Although Gore aides have encouraged speculation that the vice president disapproves of his boss campaigning for him, core Democratic constituencies such as blacks have grumbled about Mr. Clinton's absence from the stump.

"I'm doing everything I can," the president told black radio journalist April Ryan in an interview taped late Wednesday. "But when a president campaigns, it's very important not to do it too soon. And it's very important to do it in a way that you're being supportive of the people that are running. So it's kind of a delicate thing.

"If I want to have an impact on this election, I have to concentrate on talking to the people who will listen to the reasons I have for voting for the vice president. I've tried to do it as best I could in coordination with the Gore campaign."

Mr. Clinton also waged his most aggressive defense to date of the vice president on the issue of truth-telling.

"I want to talk about this veracity business," said Mr. Clinton, who was impeached and found in contempt of court for lying under oath. "I think it's a total bum rap."

The president also defended Mr. Gore against charges that he embellishes his accomplishments.

"That is crazy. He never said he invented the Internet another bum rap," Mr. Clinton groused. "So I think the exaggeration thing is wrong."

The president also warned against a Bush presidency.

"I think he would be perfectly nice to everyone," Mr. Clinton said. "His rhetoric would be unifying, but I think his policies would be divisive."

After arriving in Los Angeles, the president lauded the Clinton-Gore administration's accomplishments in a speech to thousands of Democrats at a sunset rally.

"I learned a question I was supposed to ask at election time from one of my predecessors, Ronald Reagan," he said. "He said this is the question we're supposed to ask. So I'm going to ask, and you answer. Are we better off today than we were eight years ago?"

But the president provided his own answer by warning that Mr. Gore might be needed to keep Republicans in check in the event they retain control of Congress.

"One reason you need Al Gore in the White House is that somebody needs to be there if this crowd stays in to stop their more extremist actions," he said. "And he will."

Mr. Joyner told the president that Republicans are purchasing TV ads for Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, who is draining precious votes from the Democratic base in numerous states.

"What does that tell you?" Mr. Clinton replied.

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