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House speaker snubs Clinton

President Clinton blamed Republicans on Sunday for riling up American voters and told Democrats that their task was to calm that fire between now and Election Day.

But the depth of the party's plight was underscored by the absence of House Speaker Thomas Foley, who ducked a rally where Clinton appeared to focus on a go-it-alone effort to hang on to his congressional seat from the more conservative eastern part of the state.

On Sunday, Clinton was forthright in acknowledging that the bitter national mood had left many Democratic candidates in peril. But he said the party could still recover some ground by Nov. 8 if the candidates could make the case that a Republican victory would add to voters' discontent.

It was a message that Clinton has begun to sound with increasing frustration as polls around the nation show Democrats making little progress at cutting into Republican leads. But the president's language was at its most vivid on Sunday afternoon as he bemoaned the way he and his party have been portrayed.

"What is going on here?" Clinton demanded at a fund-raising rally for Democrats in the shadow of Seattle's soaring Space Needle. He contended that Republicans had falsely tarred his party as "the apostles of big government" and misrepresented the Democrats as "wildly liberal" and "for taxes."

"They figure if they can make people mad enough and disoriented enough, they will just lash out at whoever's in," Clinton said. He called on Democrats to "wash America's windshield off in the next two weeks" to try to disabuse voters of the notion that "it's storming out."

Clinton had traveled to Seattle mainly for Ron Sims, the Democratic senatorial candidate who appears to have an outside chance in his race to oust Republican Slade Gorton from his seat. Sims is the only state Democratic candidate who has enthusiastically embraced the president.

The president was also joined on the stage at Sunday afternoon's fund-raiser by Gov. Mike Lowry, Mayor Norm Rice of Seattle, four of the state's Democratic members of Congress and another Democrat, Harriet Spanel, who is trying to maintain the party's hold on an open seat.

But Foley, who is facing the race of his life from his district near Spokane, did not attend either the fund-raiser or an earlier luncheon, a sign that Clinton's political appeal is hardly seen as universal.

His absence was another measure of how Democratic candidates from coast to coast are distancing themselves from Clinton.

Both in Washington state and at events late Saturday in San Francisco, the evident frustration of Clinton and his supporters made them sound something like President Bush in the final days of the 1992 campaign.

In San Francisco, Sen. Barbara Boxer echoed Bush in railing against "the pundits and the pollsters" who had prematurely written the party out.

And in Seattle, Clinton put forward much the same kind of long list of foreign policy successes that Bush offered two years ago in trying to convince voters that the country was on the right track.

"I'm so proud of the fact that these little children are the first generation of Americans since the dawn of nuclear power that do not have Russian missiles pointing at them," he said. "I am proud of that. Glad they will not have to worry about a North Korean nuclear power threatening their future; glad the Chinese have agreed not to sell their dangerous missiles.

"I'm proud of what we did in helping the election in South Africa and the peace process in Northern Ireland, and standing up to Saddam Hussein and bringing Father Aristide back to Haiti. I am proud of what we've been able to do in the Middle East. And I hope you will pray for me and all those in the Middle East next week and as we try to take the next big steps."

On Saturday, at a fund-raising dinner for Kathleen Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor in California, Clinton offered his clearest advice for Democrats in the remaining days before the election.

"Go out and talk to people about what this election is really all about and get them to unload all their frustration and their anger," Clinton said. "And get them to relax."