Bob Dole was fired up. His fondness for repeating his words to drive them home was in full gear. If you are president, he told a Tennessee crowd one morning last week, you must "keep your word. Keep your word."
The federal government, he continued, "spends too much of your money. Your money. Your money." The loyal crowd of a few hundred, gathered in the gymnasium of a small college, cheered wildly.
Dole accused the media of distorting his economic ideas. "I thought they were supposed to report the plan, report the plan, report the plan," he thundered. The crowd booed angrily.
By day's end, Dole was setting records. He declared that a president should be judged by "Conduct. Conduct. Conduct. Conduct. Conduct." An amused aide flashed a hand signal to another: Five.
For Dole's sake, would that those repetitions were votes. When he was hot last week, he was hot, and his messages were as sharp and as focused as at any time in the campaign. When he was cold _ well, at one point he said he just wanted to go home.
Not that anything Dole did last week mattered much to Bill Clinton. The president glided serenely around the nation in Air Force One, drawing 6,000, 8,000, 10,000 people at a time, happily spouting statistics. He seemed to have decided he could afford to ignore the scandals blooming around him.
The gist of the week was that Clinton, armed with a new statistic of a low federal deficit, took his campaign juggernaut across the nation to proclaim: See? Things are good. And here's a shopping list of more good things I'm going to do.
Dole, armed with a new statistic showing the economy's growth had slowed down, zig-zagged here and there, sometimes unpredictably, but with a pointed message: We are in more trouble than you think. My tax cuts are the way to fix it. And why aren't people more angry about these ethical problems?
A sunny town square
It was the perfect Clinton morning Monday in University City, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Several thousand gathered in the town square on a beautiful autumn day to hear Clinton address them from the steps of City Hall.
The president launched into the accomplishments that have been the backbone of his argument for re-election:
10.5-million new jobs.
Low unemployment and inflation.
Fewer people on welfare.
Higher child-support collections.
A higher minimum wage.
Family and medical leave.
Cheaper student loans.
"You have to decide whether we're better off being told we're on our own," Clinton said, "or whether you believe it does take a village to raise our children, and educate them, and protect our country and build a good future."
Then came the climax: Clinton was there to announce that 1996 showed the smallest federal deficit in 15 years, a mere $107.3-billion. The crowd cheered as if hearing that the home team had won.
In a nearby auditorium bearing a small temporary sign that said, "FILING CENTER," the rest of the Clinton campaign was at work. Here was the traveling White House press operation, carefully feeding the news to more than 100 media representatives.
Copy machines whirred with a transcript of the president's words. White House press secretary Mike McCurry stood on a platform to brief reporters on the details of the deficit; his words soon would be transcribed, too.
Aides distributed charts and graphs and historical information about the deficit, as well as background about University City. McCurry introduced Franklin Raines, director of the Office of Management of Budget, to explain the numbers further. Ann Lewis, the deputy campaign manager, wandered the room dispensing pithy quotes.
Many consulted their copy of the little yellow book they were handed upon leaving Andrews Air Force Base, "Trip of the President to Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania." They were looking at page 11:
10:50 a.m. CST
Press board buses for immediate departure to Lambert Field
And so within minutes the entire traveling enterprise was loaded and headed for the airport, the journalists rushing to board their chartered American Airlines 757, off to meet thousands also gathered that day in the Target Center in Minneapolis, and at Daley Plaza in Chicago, all part of a well-oiled, untroubled machine.
Inspired by Lincoln
The Dole campaign had awakened Tuesday not knowing where it was going. Eventually it was decided that Dole would travel from California to a stop in Denver, and then all the way back to Washington to sleep in his own bed.
Wednesday was better. Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, started their day by visiting the Lincoln Memorial, before heading back across the Southeast.
The campaign flew to Fort Campbell, Ky., aboard Dole's 727, Citizen's Ship, trailed by another 727 chartered for and paid for by the press _ informally known by its occupants as the "Bull Ship."
In Clarksville, Tenn., Elizabeth Dole warmed up the enthusiastic crowd with a top 10 list of reasons to elect her husband. Dole would be commander in chief, not "Boutros Boutros-Ghali." Another reason: "Because he doesn't look at a bar bouncer and say, "Hey, how would you like to be director of White House security?'
" She smiled sweetly.
Dole took the stage to adoring cheers. Elizabeth is so talented, he began, "Eleanor Roosevelt is trying to reach her." Fort Campbell, he said, "is one of the great forts in America." He thanked veterans for keeping America "free, free, free."
"We cannot afford four more years of scandal and weak leadership," Dole said. "We can't afford them."
Warming up, he turned to the heart of the day's message. The Commerce Department had just announced the economy grew by a lukewarm annual rate of 2.2 percent from July to September. "Evidence of a limping economy is everywhere, everywhere," he said.
According to Dole: Sales are slow. Export growth is slow. Consumer confidence is dropping. Pay is not keeping up with debt. Contrary to the rosy picture Clinton paints, the economy is "barely afloat."
Dole stressed his plan: Cut taxes an average of 15 percent. Give a $500 tax credit for each child under 18. Cut the tax on capital gains in half.
It is a potentially resonant message. It matches the feeling of many Americans that the recovery is not all it's cracked up to be; there is a lingering insecurity among a workforce that has been downsized, stagnant and scared while the stock market soars. But Dole is making it with less than a week left.
The campaign and the media rushed back to Fort Campbell to head to New Orleans, for the final (and only the second) speech of the day. Aides have run out of the printed schedule. What will Dole say in New Orleans? They don't know. What time is the next day's event in Tampa? They don't know. Is the public invited? They don't know.
Dole was in fine fettle Thursday morning in Tampa, honing the economic message, hitting back hard on Medicare, and continuing sharp one-liners on ethics. He left the stage, triumphantly, while the sound system played Fanfare for the Common Man.
Later in the day, amid the exuberance, he promised to campaign non-stop for the final 96 hours of the race, turning attention away from his message and back to the stamina of a 73-year-old man, setting off for a marathon of all-night visits across the land.