Clinton Passes Democratic Mantle

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Heralding Al Gore as ``one strong leader,'' President Clinton got a roaring, sentimental send-off from the Democratic National Convention as he yielded the political stage to the man he wants elected his successor.

Clinton's vice president watched the convention farewell on television, preparing to join the president Tuesday in Monroe, Mich., to dramatize the passing of the Democratic mantle.

``It's a symbolic message that's more important than most of the words we'll be using,'' Gore said, calling Clinton's Monday night speech a great one. ``It's a handoff, a passing of the torch.''

The convention is Gore's show now, adopting his platform on Tuesday and installing his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman was meeting Tuesday with black Democrats, some of whom are concerned about his stance on affirmative action.

Delegates will formally vote Gore the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday night. Then it's Gore's turn to take the convention salute as he accepts the nomination in its finale Thursday night.

But first, it was Clinton's turn, a 41-minute nationally televised address celebrating his eight years in the White House and urging that Gore be elected to take over.

``In the most challenging moments, when we faced the most difficult issues, of war and peace, of whether to take on some powerful special interest, he was always there,'' Clinton said. ``And he always told me exactly what he thought was right. ...

``I can tell you personally, he is one strong leader,'' the president said.

He saved a slap for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, although not by name, saying that ticket stands for policies that would ``spend every dime'' of budget surpluses on giant tax cuts, shortchanging needed programs the Democrats would deliver.

The Bush camp had an instant retort. ``Instead of passing the baton, Bill Clinton used it to beat his own drum,'' said spokesman Ari Fleischer. ``The vice president remains in Bill Clinton's shadow.''

Clinton's speech drew wave after wave of convention cheers, in a standing room-only Staples Center sports arena, the floor and galleries a sea of red placards — ``Thank you President Clinton.''

Arkansas delegate Harry Truman Moore of Paragould called Clinton's exit from the presidency ``bittersweet,'' but added, ``now it's time for people to start focusing on Al Gore.''

In his remarks, Clinton recited his record first, saying he'd matched the promises of his two winning campaigns and proven Republican critics wrong with the longest economic expansion in history. ``Harry Truman's old saying has never been more true,'' he said. ``If you want to live like a Republican, you better vote Democratic.''

When he turned to the election ahead, Clinton prefaced his boost for Gore with a word for Hillary Rodham Clinton, ``a great first lady'' campaigning for the Senate in New York. She spoke first, for herself and for Gore and Lieberman. ``They have what it takes, and they'll do what it takes,'' she said.

The president said they ``will keep our prosperity going,'' deliver on Democratic commitments across the board. ``The best is still out there, the best is yet to come, if we make the right choices this election year,'' Clinton said.

Then his farewell line, three slogans echoing his own campaigns:

``When you think about me, keep putting people first, keep building those bridges. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.''

That was the anthem of his 1992 campaign, and the crowd sang it back to him.

The Democrats' curtain: ``Seventy-Six Trombones,'' with a brass band and the cast of the Broadway revival of ``The Music Man.''

In jarring contrast, a concert for protesters in their fenced corral outside the convention hall turned violent as the Clintons spoke. Demonstrators threw chunks of concrete and fired slingshots at police, who used paper-spray balls, rubber bullets and a horseback charge to herd them away.

The violence came as a crowd of about 8,000 began to leave a concert by the band Rage Against the Machine. Hundreds of them clashed with riot-geared, and quickly reinforced police. At least four people were hurt and 10 arrested.

Thirteen people had been arrested earlier in the day after protesters blocked a downtown intersection about six blocks from the convention site.

Clinton wasn't finished when the convention recessed. He went on to deliver an encore to thousands of Democrats at a mass party on a Hollywood movie lot. ``The best way to validate all the work we've done is to win again,'' he said.

He partied into the night with current and former White House aides, before his dawn flight East to join Gore.

The platform the convention ratifies Tuesday echoes Gore's positions and campaign speeches. While it draws sharp lines against Republican policy on tax cuts, Social Security changes, abortion and other points, the platform also plays to the center with promises to balance budgets, combat crime, develop a limited national missile defense and promote free trade.

Former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, the primary election challenger who once scared the vice president but never beat him, released the delegates he did win, 359 by his count, to support Gore on the nominating roll call.

``He's got an agenda that is the agenda of the Democratic Party,'' Bradley said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``It's also my agenda. He's moved toward positions that I espoused in the campaign in a number of areas, and so there's not a close call for me.''

Bradley, who once accused Gore of a campaign of attack, attack, attack, and of distorting his positions, said he will be an active campaigner for the Democratic ticket, and wasn't thinking about another presidential bid of his own.

``All of my efforts and thoughts are directed toward November, not beyond that,'' he said.

Bradley was addressing the convention Tuesday.

Also on the agenda were Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the assassinated John F. Kennedy, nominated in Los Angeles 40 years ago; Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, his brother; and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.