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Utahns fear ties to Clinton

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National Democratic convention coverage

Utahns traveling to Los Angeles this weekend for the Democratic National Convention are ecstatic about Al Gore's running mate but concerned that any link to President Clinton could be a drag on the newly energized team.

Even with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., on board as the vice presidential candidate, former Democratic Congressman Bill Orton doesn't see the "Clinton-Gore-Lieberman" ticket going anywhere in Utah, where Clinton finished third behind George Bush and Ross Perot in 1992.

Nor does former state Democratic Party chairwoman Fae C. Beck.

"In Utah, I can't think of much that would help (Gore) short of his joining the LDS Church," she said.

"I think that his national strategy would have to be to distance himself from Clinton's moral lapses and be joined at the hip with Clinton on his economic successes."

Beck and gubernatorial candidate Orton are among 29 delegates and four alternates who will be at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the national convention beginning Monday. Five state legislators and 3rd Congressional District challenger Donald Dunn are part of the delegation.

Overall, the state sends a diverse group of delegates to the convention billed as a tribute to working-class Americans. They include Salt Lake NAACP President Jeanetta Williams, San Juan County Commissioner Mark Maryboy, a Navajo, and three openly gay or lesbian Utahns.

More than half will be attending their first national convention. Three veteran politicians, Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen and state Rep. Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake City, are numbered with the first-timers.

David Nelson, a member of the Democratic National Gay and Lesbian Advisory Committee, said he and state Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, and David Thometz will take part in the convention's gay and lesbian caucus.

Nelson counts Gore's "unwavering" support for protecting the equal rights of gay and lesbian Americans among his reasons for favoring him as president.

But for many convention delegates surveyed by the Deseret News before they left for L.A., the steady economy is ample reason to elevate Gore to the presidency in November.

"The people of Utah will have to look at their pocketbooks and ask themselves who brought the good times to them, the Republicans or the Democrats," said delegate Karen Mayne of West Valley City.

Delegate Dan Peay, a Magna diesel mechanic, attended the party national platform committee meeting in Cleveland last month. Overall, he said, he likes the platform centered on themes of prosperity, progress and peace. But Peay also found it somewhat lacking.

"I would have liked to see them put in things that would benefit labor," he said. Peay also lamented that Democrats didn't come out against the United States doing business with China because it has "no regard for human life."

Orton goes to the convention as a Gore delegate but decidedly not a fan of the vice president.

"Personally and politically, I have problems with Al Gore myself. We have never been friends or allies. Of course, I have problems with George W. Bush, too," said Orton, who fancies himself a bipartisan politician.

Delegate Kelly Ann Booth, a 23-year-old Sandy resident, says Clinton is a drag on any Democratic candidate in Utah.

"Nationally, I think he certainly offers no advantage in the image department, but he probably doesn't really hurt Gore either. Clinton's best strategy is the one he has already seemingly adopted — lay low, act presidential and throw fund-raisers and offer support as far behind the scenes as possible," she said.

Biskupski said she believes a majority of people have been happy with Clinton's leadership. Gore's biggest challenge, she said, is to connect with people. "He needs to be a bit more charismatic," she said.

Weber State University political science professor Rod Julander said he met Gore and was impressed with the vice president's integrity and passion for contributing to the nation. And, Julander said, Gore wasn't stiff and has a great sense of humor.

Though delegates find the Clinton-Gore connection somewhat troublesome, they see Gore as his own candidate with his own ideas. The election, they say, is more about the future than the past.

Still, delegates say better public schools, reduced crime, environmental protection and the nation's strong economy the past eight years make Gore electable.

"Overall, I think people are going to look at the direction of this country in November and determine whether they are better off staying the course or making a change," said alternate delegate Mark Mickelsen, a Utah Education Association public relations director. "I am hopeful the majority will want to keep a Democrat in the White House for at least another four years."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com