Rain disrupts Clinton plans for fund-raiser, debate watching

Wednesday, October 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ For the first time in years, President Clinton was not a participant in a presidential campaign debate _ and for a few minutes, he almost wasn't a spectator either.

Clinton came here Tuesday to raise money for Democrats but spent the day sidelined by thunderstorms that knocked out cable TV and nearly kept him from watching the first debate between his would-be successors, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

``I feel a little jinxed,'' the president joked toward the end of the day.

Wednesday, with overcast skies only slightly more forgiving, the president told a breakfast fund-raiser for his wife's New York Senate campaign that he was proud of Gore's performance, and predicted that more Americans will watch the next two debates.

``I think they both acquitted themselves pretty well, but my whole theory is the vice president and Senator (Joseph) Lieberman would win if voters got a good sense of their positions on the issues,'' Clinton said.

He thanked the donors for their contributions, saying his wife is hobbled somewhat by the fact that she has essentially faced two Republicans _ her current challenger Rick Lazio and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who bowed out because of illness. Those who gave the maximum hard-money donation to Giuliani are now free to give to Lazio, Clinton said.

``We ought to consider that,'' he said. ``We're having to work extra hard.''

Clinton slogged through puddles of water Tuesday to keep two fund-raising commitments for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign, teasing supporters in Coral Gables for turning out on a ``typically Florida, sunny day'' to open their wallets to help his wife.

``There are a lot of interests that would like to whip her,'' Clinton said. ``I think half of them think it's their last chance at me. ... But she's doing well. I'm so proud of her. But it's very important that she not be outspent 3-1 the way in. In politics, you can get outspent, but you have to have enough to get your message out.''

Clinton's motorcade then navigated semi-flooded streets to the Miami airport for the short flight to Jupiter Island, Fla., where donors waited to ante up $750,000.

But Air Force One looked more like Ark Force One, parked in several inches of water while wind and rain pelted Clinton and hapless aides and Secret Service agents as they scurried aboard.

Reluctantly, Clinton rounded up his damp entourage and returned to the Biltmore Hotel to deliver his speech by phone. ``I didn't give up until we had sat on the tarmac for an hour and the Air Force said there was no way,'' Clinton told the crowd. ``I'm just sick I'm not there.''

After his speech, Clinton settled in to watch the Bush-Gore debate in his hotel suite. He was joined by the hotel's owner, Gene Prescott, businessman Phil Levine and Jorge Perez and Chris and Irene Korge, local residents who had hosted the fund-raisers for the first lady earlier in the day.

Suddenly, the hotel's cable television service fell victim to the storm, too. Clinton wandered down to the hotel bar in search of a television set that worked.

Eventually, the president hauled his entire debate party back to the Korges' home, which had working cable. By then the debate was under way, so Clinton listened on an AM radio station in the car. He arrived just as Gore was fielding a question about oil.

Afterward, Clinton called Gore from the Korges' house.

``You did a terrific job,'' he told Gore.