Democrats To Open National Convention

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Boasting of prosperity and trying to erase the vestiges of scandal, Democrats open their change-of-command convention Monday with a farewell address by President Clinton. The rest of the week belongs to Al Gore.

The Clinton valedictory stretches over 14 hours at the security-fenced Democratic National Convention, the main event a prime time television address to say that his campaign promises have been kept and Gore's will be too.

Clinton says Gore would keep building prosperity for all Americans, and Republican nominee George W. Bush would not. ``If people know the difference in what's in our vision for the future and what we're going to build on and what they intend to dismantle, do you have any doubt what the decision will be?'' he asked the Democratic National Committee on Sunday. ``Of course you don't.''

As more than 4,300 delegates gathered, police, working 12-hour shifts, braced for the threat of heightened protests during the four days of the convention. A first wave of demonstrators, some 3,500 of them, marched on the convention hall Sunday, shouting and chanting their way to the protest area outside the Staples Center. Ten-foot chain-link fences walled them from the convention hall and legions of police, some of them in riot gear, kept them in the court-ordered protest zone.

Gore was slowly making his way to his convention city, stopping Monday at former President Harry Truman's hometown outside Kansas City to mark the 65th anniversary of the Social Security system and tout his own proposals to expand Medicare.

He was being joined there by running mate Joseph Lieberman.

The polls of voter preference rate Bush the leader 12 weeks before the Nov. 7 elections, by margins that ranged from 3 percentage points in one survey released Sunday to 16 in another. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup Poll gave Bush 55 percent, Gore 39. during the week between the Democratic and Republican national conventions. A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll showed 44 percent for Bush, 41 for Gore.

That's where Democratic Party chairman Joe Andrew said Gore needs to be after this convention ends in a shower of balloons and confetti on Thursday, in a statistical tie, within the pollsters' margin of error.

John Podesta, Clinton's chief of staff, said the president will do whatever Gore thinks would be helpful to his campaign. Podesta said in an AP interview that it is Clinton's ``moment to get off the stage'' and turn it over to his vice president.

That transition always is a challenge when the man who has been No. 2, Gore's role for eight years, is nominated to take over. Gore said in an AP interview in Cleveland that the process has evolved over the course of the final year. ``It reaches its crescendo at the time of the convention and after the convention,'' he said.

Clinton wasn't rushing it. He was meeting with Hispanic and then Black Democrats, then appearing at a forum of international leaders here for the convention, before his speech at 7:30 p.m. Los Angeles time, prime time in the East. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been raising funds and touching Democratic bases for her Senate campaign in New York, is speaking first.

Then it is on to a Democratic Party dinner at Paramount Studios for another Clinton speech, followed by a convention party on the back lot, expected to draw about 10,000 people.

Finally, close to midnight, Clinton is going to a party for current and former White House staffers.

On Tuesday, after five days in the convention city — longer than Gore will be here — Clinton leaves town, to meet the vice president in Monroe, Mich., for a symbolic passing of the political banner.

After more than 20 appearances, there was some backstage grumbling that the president was grabbing too much attention at the expense of Gore and his running mate.

``It's not a problem,'' William Daley, Gore's campaign chairman, said on CBS. ``The convention is Al Gore's Tuesday through Thursday.''

Gore arrives Wednesday, the day the nomination he clinched more than five months ago will be made formal by convention vote.

He inherits the prospering economy, a plus, but also the possible liability of lingering weariness at the scandal and impeachment that embroiled Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

After the president stirred the subject with an emotional, personal confessional to a conference of clergymen last week, Bush made a campaign topic of it, challenging Gore to declare his differences with Clinton.

``I think that he is trying to make a campaign about something the American people don't want this campaign to be about,'' Gore said. The vice president said he has served ``according to the highest values, and I will continue to do that.''

Lieberman was the first Senate Democrat to publicly rebuke Clinton, in September 1998, in a speech cited at each of his five television talk show stops Sunday. To the suggestion that his early rebuff would help the ticket, he said ``well, if it does, fine.

``Because ... the Republicans seem to be campaigning mostly against a guy who is not on the ballot this year,'' Lieberman said on NBC, ``not on his record, because the record is so great, but because of the personal mistakes that he made. And that's not fair to Al Gore.''

When the vice president declared his candidacy, he said Clinton's conduct in the Lewinsky affair had been inexcusable, and that the president had lied to him as he had to everyone else. Clinton was said to have resented that.

But there were no open breaks between the two men, and the reported friction was the exception. Gore was the loyalist who never backed off his statement on impeachment day in 1998 that Clinton would be regarded ``as one of our greatest presidents.''