WASHINGTON — At a time when polls show Vice President Al Gore trailing his Republican rival, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, in several battleground states, an increasing number of Democrats contend President Clinton should play a prominent role stumping for Gore this fall — even if it reminds voters that he, and not his proteg, remains the party's pre-eminent performer.
In closely contested states from Washington to Missouri to New Jersey, state Democratic leaders and strategists say Clinton could bring much-needed charisma and excitement to a campaign that has often seemed leaden and uninspiring, even to many of its allies.
More important, those Democratic leaders say, Clinton is still revered by important Democratic constituencies, particularly black voters. Several recent polls suggest that a substantial number of those core Democrats seem either disengaged from the contest or disenchanted with Gore.
Clinton's role in the post-convention campaign is the subject of discussions between White House officials and aides to Gore, including William Daley, the campaign chairman. Both sides say Clinton has made it clear that he will bow to Gore's judgment on how he should be involved, a decision the vice president is not expected to make until after the convention.
But the pressure to use Clinton has placed the Gore campaign in a bind. The vice president's advisers acknowledge that Clinton's artful touch with a crowd could energize Democratic voters for Gore. But they worry that the president will outshine Gore on the trail, making the nominee seem more like the campaign's understudy than its star.
While the Gore campaign clearly wants to keep its options open for Clinton, Democratic leaders in many of those battleground states have not been shy about voicing their opinions to the Gore campaign and to Clinton himself: They would like to see the president campaigning early and often on their home turf.
Thomas P. Giblin, chairman of the New Jersey Democratic Party, said Clinton remains popular in that state, where several polls have shown the race very close. Though he acknowledged that using Clinton extensively "might be viewed as a dicey move," he argued that the president's popularity with core Democrats and even some independents would outweigh any risks he might pose.
"He might be the person it takes to activate people," Giblin said. "They seem to respond better to Bill Clinton than to Al Gore."