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Clinton campaigns in California

President Clinton, campaigning for California Democrats, demanded Saturday that schools expel gun-toting students. He earlier accused Republicans of plotting to gut his education package.

Tying the two themes together, Clinton told high school students in a packed gymnasium, "We have to prove . . . we can still give our kids an old-fashioned, safe upbringing and a good education."

Clinton sought to boost his own political standing _ and by extension the chances of the candidates he campaigned for _ with a three-day swing through California, Washington state and Ohio.

As one of his first acts of the trip, the president signed an executive order requiring school districts to expel for at least one year any student who brings a gun to the classroom. He said the government would terminate funding to states that don't force school districts to comply.

The directive simply clarifies the intent of a new law, but it gave Clinton an excuse to address voter disgust with mounting crime, a key issue in the midterm elections.

"Young people simply should not have to live in fear of young criminals who carry guns to school," he said at Carlmont High School. "We cannot operate in a country where children are afraid. . . . You cannot learn in that kind of atmosphere."

As the students cheered and stamped their feet in the bleachers, Clinton said, "You must say no to guns, no to gangs, no to drugs _ yes to education, yes to hope and yes to your own future."

Despite some progress in the polls, due mostly to successful foreign policy initiatives in Haiti and Iraq, Clinton is still considered a political liability to many Democratic candidates. But he was joined Saturday by three members of California's congressional delegation, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Earlier, Clinton used his weekly radio address to chide Republicans for their "Contract with America," a campaign wish list that promises support of the balanced budget amendment and congressional term limits.

Clinton said the contract would cut taxes for the wealthy, trim Medicare and reduce education programs, including a new loan program that makes it easier for middle-class Americans to repay their college debts.

"We can't give in to easy promises," he said. The Republican plan "would mean cutting many of the education reforms we've worked so hard to pass, along with Medicare and other programs."