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Demos feel on edge over Clinton talk

Utahn hopes he’ll praise Gore, then ‘get out of town’

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LOS ANGELES — President Clinton will walk to the podium of the Staples Center here tonight and give what may be the last major speech of his presidency.

Members of the Utah Democratic delegation hope he'll talk about the accomplishments of the past eight years, praise Vice President Al Gore and then "get out of town" — as former state party chairman Dave Jones puts it.

Clinton and wife Hillary, who is running for the U.S. Senate in New York, arrived in L.A. over the weekend. They've spent the past several days attending fund-raisers for his presidential library and her Senate campaign. Hillary Clinton will address the convention Monday night also.

The first couple has been very visible — and clearly enjoying that visibility.

Some are wondering if Clinton — who loves a show and tends to give fine (if sometimes long) speeches — could be stealing the stage from Gore at Gore's own convention.

"He's the outgoing president," said Jones, who is retiring this year as the minority leader of the Utah House. "He has to be here and he has to speak. It's smart to put him in (the convention's) first night, though."

By Thursday, when Gore formally accepts his nomination for president from his party and gives the closing speech, Clinton's visit will be old news, Jones believes.

Neither Jones nor Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, thinks Clinton should mention his impeachment, the scandal that brought him to it or apologize for either Monday night.

George Stephanopolous, Clinton's former top adviser, on ABC's "This Week" program Sunday predicted Clinton won't mention the matter." And the Gore (campaign) people are desperate that he not do that," he said.

Thursday, speaking before a convention of 4,500 clergymen in Chicago, Clinton specifically said the American people shouldn't blame Gore for his (Clinton's) moral slippage. And Stephanopolous said he believes those comments, while sincere, were timed to deflect away any criticism Monday if Clinton doesn't apologize or bring up his scandal in his Democratic National Convention speech.

"He should not talk about Monica Lewinsky at all," delegate Jeanetta Williams said. "He's already apologized. How many times does the man have to do it? He should talk about continuing the accomplishments of the past eight years — accomplishments he's made with Vice President Al Gore."

"This could well be (Clinton's) last major address of his presidency," Taylor said. "First, I hope he says a big thank you" to the Democratic loyalists in the audience who stood by him in his darkest hours — his impeachment by the House and (ultimately unsuccessful) trial in the Senate.

"Once more, he should crystallize the achievements of his presidency. And there have been many of them. He leaves with a substantial record," Taylor said.

Should he apologize, though?

Considering some of the hard feelings about Clinton in Utah (his job performance ratings are rock bottom, polls show), Taylor said, "If this were the Utah State Democratic Convention, maybe so. But to do that here takes the focus away from where it should be."

And that's about the job he's done as president the past eight years and the important role that Gore has played in that "successful" presidency, Taylor said.

"People need to ask themselves one simple question," Jones said. "Are you better off today than you were eight years ago? Is America better off?

"I think an honest answer for almost everyone is, yes, I am. The country certainly is," Jones said.

"Is Bill Clinton responsible for all of that? No. Will he take credit for it? He probably shouldn't but will. But he and Gore certainly had something to do with it. This has been a time of significant accomplishments. Crime is down, the economy is great.

"I just hope he won't bash the Republicans. We can skip that," Jones said.

And, Jones said, Clinton should list the important things that Gore — who even the Republicans admit has been a very active vice president — has done.

"You know, the federal bureaucracy is the smallest (as measured against the population and Gross National Product) in 40 years. And that is all Al Gore — his baby — reforming the bureaucracy. The Social Security system is actually responsive to senior citizens. It's widely successful."