Bill Clinton will get his last hurrah, after all.
The president, along with several key Democrats, yesterday invited the apprentice to get out of the way and let the sorcerer do the job. We’ve got the sequel to ‘88: Bush vs. Clinton. Big time.
The president has invited “community and religious leaders” read labor-union bosses and black preachers to the White House to sit ‘em down and wind ‘em up while the Air Force refuels Air Force One, and then Mr. Clinton leaves for California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Kentucky, New York and anywhere else the pilot can find an unoccupied runway.
This is what the president has been living for, what the desperate Democrats have been waiting for. This cuts Al down by more than a few splinters, but it’s a free country. Presidents have First Amendment rights, too. Monica Lewinsky is looking for her beret, ready to search for a rope line. This is gonna be like old times.
Gray Davis, the gray governor of California who recognizes a loser when he sees one, yesterday all but invited Al out of the campaign in California, The guv, like a lot of Democrats in Washington, is worried about more than the presidential race, which some of them are braced for losing, anyway.
Seats in Congress and the state legislatures are at risk coast to coast, and that’s particularly important this year because new congressional seats will be drawn next year, and control of the district-drawing mechanism is crucial.
An aide to Gray Davis sharply rebuked Al’s campaign staff last week for inept strategy in California, where George W. has cut Al’s double-digit lead in the public-opinion polls to six or seven points, close to the margin of error. Hence the panic call to the White House, where the president had been waiting by the telephone.
“He’s immensely popular here,” Governor Davis said of the president at a press conference yesterday in Sacramento. “He’s one of the most compelling speakers in American politics, and there’s no one I can think of, absent the candidate himself, who could rally Democrats and independents and motivate them to turn out, than President Clinton.”
If Al could do it, of course, the governor wouldn’t have spent the State of California’s money on the call to Washington, but everyone’s trying to be as polite as possible about the humiliation of having to assign the president to the role of the St. Bernard with that little keg of brandy hanging from his collar.
The president, at Al’s determined insistence, has until now kept a low profile, venturing only a bitter assessment of George W.’s performance after the second debate, and drawing a rebuke from Al as thanks for it. Al’s handlers are terrified that the president will “overshadow” the candidate, but most Democrats have reached the reluctant conclusion that Al is slipping swiftly into the shadows all by himself. An incumbent candidate running in such good times which is exactly what Al is should not be anguishing at Halloween over whether the undecideds will break for him in the final 10 days.
This is the best news George W. has had all week. He linked the president and Al yesterday at Pittsburgh in a rousing indictment of Al as one of the leftovers at the Clinton White House, now going a little ripe, and vowing to honor the “controlling authority of conscience.”
The faltering Gore campaign is “a fitting close” to eight years of leaving “faint footprints,” of “marking time, not making progress. They’re going out as they came in. Their guide, the nightly polls. Their goal, the morning headlines. Their legacy, the fruitless search for a legacy.
“In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal, but also what is right, not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves.”
This was the harshest rhetoric of his 16-month quest for the White House, a sharp departure from the feel-good mush and bean sprouts he has skillfully dished out in this season of politics served up to the baby-food taste of the fans of Oprah and Jim Lehrer.
But a taste for red meat invariably returns in the last week of every presidential campaign, and George W. has learned the lesson everyone thought Republicans never would, the Democratic art of going for the jugular while decrying knives. Yesterday in Pittsburgh he pledged to change “the tone of political discourse” while laying out the awful “negative example” of Al Gore. “He talks of ‘ripping the lungs out’ of political adversaries,” he said, quoting Al accurately. “Part of his campaign headquarters is called ‘the slaughterhouse.’ And his staff proudly calls itself a band of ‘killers.’ ”
Dr. Cool sounds ready for Mr. Slick. This should be the seven days that rocked the vote.