Opening a drive to try to plug the political cracks threatening his party's once-solid Senate majority, President Clinton interrupted his vacation to tout the Democratic ticket in neighboring Maine.
Clinton surrounded himself with Democratic candidates as he addressed a Labor Day rally in Bath, Maine, on Monday. He paid special attention to the campaign of Rep. Tom Andrews, D-Maine, who is trying to move to the Senate to succeed Majority Leader George Mitchell.Mitchell, who is returning to private life, was considered a cinch for re-election had he chosen to run. But recent opinion polls show Andrews trailing Rep. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, by 15 percentage points.
Thirty-five Senate seats are on the line this year. And the loss of a Democratic seat in Maine could markedly improve the GOP's chances of making the net gain of seven seats it needs to erase the Democrats' 56-44 advantage.
A Senate in Republican hands would seriously complicate Clinton's ability to move his legislative agenda.
So when Clinton spoke in a cold, driving rain to a crowd outside the Bath Ironworks shipyard, he urged his listeners "to reward people in public life who will say yes to America, who will look for ways to come together, not be divided."
Hitting a theme - the economic recovery - that is bound to be a centerpiece of his fall election efforts on behalf of Democratic candidates, Clinton offered special thanks to Andrews for "his leadership in Congress to help us rebuild the ship building industry and to help turn this economy around."
Shipbuilding and an unusual bargain between labor and management at Bath Ironworks provided the official reason for Clinton to break off his Martha's Vineyard vacation for several hours and fly to Maine.
The company and its major union have signed a contract in which management granted the union a voice in major corporate decisions.
Clinton urged the crowd to vote for Democrats, assailing Republicans who opposed his deficit-reduction package, the crime bill and health care reform.
"Our administration has fought for change against some very, very powerful enemies of change," he said.
Although Clinton will campaign this fall for all congressional Democrats who believe he can help their cause, skepticism exists about the value of his political coattails.
The president ends his Martha's Vineyard vacation Wednesday and returns to the White House, where he shortly will sign into law the newly passed crime bill, the product of a hard-fought but major legislative victory.
Clinton faces tough choices on his health care reform initiative with serious questions being raised about whether any meaningful and significant bill can be approved before Congress adjourns for the year and goes home to campaign.
The White House is planning a number of political trips across the country this fall. At the end of this week, the president will fly to New Orleans to address a convention of Baptist ministers.
Clinton's speech in Maine came at the traditional start of fall campaigns. But the arrival of the 1994 political season also saw his popularity sagging.
A Time Magazine-CNN survey showed 52 percent of adult Americans now disapprove of Clinton's work in the White House.