Delegates Stream Into Chicago for Pre-Convention Activities
CHICAGO (AP) _ Democrats streamed into their convention city Saturday determined to propel President Clinton to a second term and recapture control of Congress. Framing his case for a hectic week ahead, the president declared: ``America is on the right track.″
The city shone on a beautiful summer day even as police deployed to blunt any protests that could recall the troubles of the 1968 convention here.
Clinton was in Washington, preparing to depart Sunday for a ``21st Century Express″ train journey to the convention. Vice President Al Gore was among the early arrivals, joining delegates and Democratic activists for an array of pre-convention festivities.
``I’ve got a file folder full of party invitations,″ said Gary Hindes, the Delaware Democratic chairman.
At a welcoming rally in Chicago’s Grant Park, Gore was greeted with chants of ``Four More Years″ and the slogan was emblazoned on a hot air balloon flying overhead.
``I am confident of victory,″ Gore said. ``The American people are not buying what the other party is offering.″
Afterward, Gore told MTV in an interview taped for later airing: ``We’re psyched.″
There were a handful of demonstrations Saturday, including one where 22 people were arrested after a scuffle that left two police officers with minor injuries. Police spokesman Paul Jenkins said protesters threw bricks and other objects at the officers at Garfield Park, about two miles west of the convention hall, after decrying racism and welfare reform.
The White House was bracing for welfare protests throughout the four-day gathering. The issue is extremely divisive for the party _ even the Democratic national chairman has criticized Clinton’s decision to sign welfare legislation that ended the 60-year federal guarantee of cash assistance to the poor. Noting that Clinton had twice vetoed similar Republican proposals, two-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said, ``He should have done it three times.″
Clinton faced pressure from the right, too.
Republican challenger Bob Dole was attending a GOP picnic Sunday in suburban Chicago to outline a new anti-drug initiative and cast Clinton as negligent in the fight to keep children off drugs. On Saturday, Dole sought to insulate himself from the coming torrent of Democratic criticism, rebutting the White House claim that he could not cut taxes by $548 billion without making draconian cuts in Medicare, education and other popular programs.
Delivering the GOP response to Clinton’s weekly radio address, Dole said of the Democratic incumbent: ``Instead of offering solutions, he offers a harsh and negative advertising campaign, hoping to scare you into believing that our plan would harm those Americans who rely on Medicare.″
Democrats will make their case against Dole _ and for a second Clinton term _ from a high-tech podium built in Chicago’s United Center, the place where Michael Jordan earns his living for the NBA champion Bulls. As the sound system was checked and double-checked Saturday, workers hoisted a half-dozen giant nets filled with red, white and blue balloons to the rafters for the traditional festive finale.
In addition to ticketmates Clinton and Gore, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has a prime-time speaking role, highlighting Tuesday’s agenda. Mixed in with the predictable parade of Democratic leaders were a handful of everyday Americans called on to speak about how Clinton initiatives have improved their lives.
Clinton wasn’t the only one with something to prove. Congressional Democrats were given a slice of convention time to promote their candidates _ and were talking up their chances of recapturing control of Congress. ``I believe we are poised for a big victory in November,″ House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said in an interview.
Chicago, too, was looking for redemption. The 1968 Democratic convention here was marred by anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and some arriving delegates recalled watching police firing tear gas at the crowds.
Hubert ``Skip″ Humphrey III had a bird’s-eye view _ his father was the Democratic presidential nominee that year, and had a 25th floor hotel suite overlooking the lakefront protests. ``It was terrible,″ said Skip Humphrey, now Minnesota’s attorney general.
Among those welcoming the delegates was Mayor Richard M. Daley, who acknowledged some grumbling in the party over the welfare issue but said it was time to rally around Clinton. ``Unity is the way to win elections,″ Daley said.
After lagging 20 points behind Clinton for most of the summer, Dole got a bounce from his San Diego convention earlier this month; most polls now put Clinton’s lead in the six-to-10 point range. A Newsweek survey released Saturday, for example, showed Clinton with 47 percent support, Dole at 40 percent and Ross Perot at 7.
Clinton’s goal for Chicago was to widen the gap _ and to propel himself toward a niche in history: not since Franklin Roosevelt has a Democratic president been elected to a second term.
Practicing for his busy convention week, Clinton used his weekly radio address to remind voters his crime-fighting record included signing the Brady handgun control law and legislation banning some assault rifles.
Clinton also reflected on what he called ``a week of remarkable achievements″ in which he signed legislation raising the minimum wage, making it easier to obtain health insurance and requiring welfare recipients to work.
Making his case for a second term, Clinton said, ``America is on the right track, offering more opportunity, demanding more responsibility, building a strong community, a sense of shared values and stronger families.″