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They Seem to Genuinely Like Their Nominee, But See His Flaws

August 28, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ It seems genuine, the devotion that Democratic delegates express for the president they are renominating. They like Bill Clinton. But they see weaknesses in him, too _ a tendency to vacillate, to give in too soon, to see all sides.

``When he says, `I feel your pain,′ I think he does,″ says Carol Donovan, 59, a Massachusetts delegate to the Democratic National Convention. ``I see it as a real plus.″ But some people, she concedes, ``think that’s phony.″

``He’s gotten something of a reputation of being a flip-flopper,″ adds state Democratic chairman Dan Hannaher of Fargo, N.D.

Clinton has turned out to be a divisive personality.

Some Americans dislike him as intensely as some hated Richard Nixon and, before him, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Others find him warm, honest, open, not presumptuous.

``Bill Clinton is my generation’s J.F.K.,″ said James McGuigan, 31, a baby boomer delegate from Brown Deer, Wis.

Associated Press reporters interviewed scores of delegates to explore the dichotomy, asking what they considered Clinton’s strengths or weaknesses.

This is not an unbiased crowd, of course.

Some delegates, out of loyalty, flatly refused to discuss Clinton’s weaknesses, or even admit that any could exist.

Others sprouted party-line boilerplate when asked about his strengths, citing the economy or his stand against tobacco.

And some tried to give a candid evaluation _ if it could be done without hurting the Democratic cause.

Over and over, Clinton’s vacillating tendencies came up.

``He does like to have people approve of him a little more than I would prefer,″ said oilman George Krumme of Bristow, Okla. ``That is a weakness. I would prefer him to stand on principle.″

Added Mary Botkin of Portland, Ore.: ``He says something, then he moves away from it. When you say, `This is where I’m at,′ then you have to stay there.″

Jim Sjoberg of St. Johns, Mich., put it this way: ``He could use a little more fight.″

``Too damn nice,″ said Joseph Perry of Searsport, Me. ``He tries to satisfy everyone.″

But even this view is two-sided. Some see Clinton’s empathizing as a plus.

Wilfredo Caraballo, 49, of Newark, N.J., said he doesn’t know if ``emotionalizing″ is a word, but it describes what he sees in the president. ``He does agonize over things,″ he said. ``I think his strength is that he is real. But at the same time that’s his weakness. to the extent that he winds up taking a position and not explaining the metamorphosis, it’s a valid criticism.″

From Andrew Romanoff of Denver: ``He can empathize with all sides, which can make him seem indecisive. But in some ways it’s the source of his greatest strength.′

Clinton’s other strengths?

``He is a people person,″ said Sharon Bearden, Piedmont, Mo.

``I think that he genuinely cares about the children of America,″ said Susie Jablinske, an Annapolis, Md. school teacher.

``He’s so inclusive,″ said Sheila McGuire of Boone, Iowa.

Whitewater _ and the ``character issue″ in general _ were mentioned a number of times by delegates talking about Clinton’s weaknesses. ``I know people take shots at his character, but he’s human,″ said Frank Prevedel of Rock Springs, Colo.

Added Albert Holtz of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.: ``You hear the stuff about his private life, but I don’t think people will be interested in that. Twenty years ago that might have been different, but we’re learning that there are no perfect people.″

Whitewater is ``just an image problem,″ offered Lew Moye of St. Louis. ``There’s nothing there that shows he did anything wrong.″

And Patrician Rogers of Los Alamos, N.M., suggested that Clinton was simply too good looking for his own good. ``He is just so handsome that women are attracted to him,′ she said. ``Then people perceive something that is not there. It would be easier if he were ugly.″

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