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Despite cold shoulder, Clinton defends Gore

©Washington Post

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 1999


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton strongly defended Vice President Gore on Thursday, praising his colleague's record even though Gore repeatedly has sought to put some distance between himself and Clinton in his 2000 presidential campaign.

Clinton acknowledged that his affair with Monica Lewinsky might hurt Gore with some voters, but he minimized the likelihood.

"The American people are inherently fair," he said, and able to judge candidates on their merits.

At a White House news conference, Clinton said Gore "has a great record and has been the most accomplished vice president in history."

"I gave him a kind of partnership and a level of responsibility never before remotely equaled in the history of this country, and I think that is worth something in an election because it shows what you can do," Clinton said.

Twice in recent campaign settings Gore has made of point of expressing concerns about Clinton, although he continues to praise the president as an outstanding leader. He told a Washington Post luncheon two weeks ago that he might ask the president not to campaign for him. And Wednesday night, in a televised New Hampshire forum with fellow Democratic contender Bill Bradley, Gore took a question about cynicism in U.S. politics and responded as if the questioner had focused specifically on Clinton.

"I understand the disappointment and anger that you feel toward President Clinton, and I felt it myself," Gore said.

Thursday, Clinton was asked if he felt he was "a drag on the vice president's campaign and a reminder of the Lewinsky-impeachment issue?"

"No," the president replied with a steely stare. After a pause, he continued at some length: "I think a lot of people who may not like me may hold it against him, but . . . I don't think mature people hold one person responsible for another person's conduct. . . . If there had been some example of official misconduct in office, which he had been a part of, that would be a different thing."

Voters are concerned more about the future than the past, Clinton said, but he added: "Insofar as they do blame him, I hope they give him some of the credit for the longest peacetime expansion in history," high employment and falling crime rates and welfare rolls. "In terms of what he said" in New Hampshire, "he hasn't said anything I haven't said."

Later in the news conference -- held jointly with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo -- Clinton volunteered that Gore deserves much of the credit for the administration's "empowerment zones," meant to lure investments to low-income areas. Pollsters disagree on the extent to which the president's close association helps or hinders the vice president.

The news conference concluded a day of meetings between Clinton and Obasanjo, who was elected this year and hopes to end his nation's status as a pariah state.

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