President Clinton, armed with a new Justice Department report on border patrols, is resuming his fight with Bob Dole over who is most effective at fighting crime.
Clinton traveled to San Diego late Sunday for a pair of visits Monday with local police to highlight community policing and to take credit for a drop in crime in California, a highly significant state with 54 electoral votes.White House aides said the president is particularly impressed with a reduction in crime along the border with Mexico. In conjunction with his visit, the Justice Department was releasing a report on the administration's progress against crime along the Southwest border.
The goal of Clinton's three-day trip is to juxtapose his crime-fighting philosophies against those voiced by Dole, the certain Republican presidential nominee. Aides denied that the president is responding to anti-crime stances Dole took while campaigning in California recently, saying Dole was short on specifics.
"He didn't have much to respond to when (Dole) was here," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. "The president will properly point out that he is the one who fought to put 100,000 cops on the street."
Dole, who has said he would go to battle with Clinton for a California victory, has asserted that Clinton is soft on crime, in part because of lax policing at the Mexican border and less-than-aggressive prosecution of drug smugglers.
In Las Vegas earlier Sunday, Clinton warned of the potential for a wave of juvenile crime over the next five years if the nation does not respond now with a gentle combination of tough laws and community-based prevention programs.
"If we don't turn this juvenile crime around . . . you cannot imagine what we will be grappling with. It will consume this country," he said. "You need to support these programs. They are proof we can turn this thing around."
While aides would not reveal what Monday's report contains, McCurry said that Clinton would "point to the successes we can have along the border" and focus on how communities here have pulled together against crime.
Clinton also is looking to bolster his standing in Western states, which gave him a big boost in 1992. Then, Clinton carried California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, and political advisers said he currently leads Dole in those states.
Throughout the day Sunday, Democrats in Nevada and San Francisco were quick to point out that Clinton's attention to their regional issues is appreciated. In California, they repeatedly noted that this is his 24th trip to California since he took office, more than any president has made in the past decade.
"You are California's best friend," said Sen. Barbara Boxer as she stood with Clinton at a rally at the Presidio, a former military base that has been proposed for conversion into a national park.
With the Golden Gate Bridge looming in the background, Clinton called for moving forward with the Presidio park conversion to help "every place that lost a lot due to the end of the Cold War" cope with military base closings.
Without mentioning Dole, Clinton decried proposals supported by some congressional Republicans to privatize national parks, equating it with abandonment of "a national treasure."
"All over California you can see what happens when you make a commitment not to leave the people who fought the Cold War for us behind," Clinton said.