Clinton Seen Emerging from Political Wilderness Basic Strength of Democratic Party Cited as Big November Factor

Article excerpt

COULD Ross Perot's candidacy be a breakthrough for Bill Clinton?

As the presidential primaries end, Governor Clinton's political team says his strength is gradually growing as he crisscrosses the country in search of support.

Meanwhile, President Bush's standing in the polls has nose-dived as Mr. Perot grabs the headlines, pounds Mr. Bush's record, and dominates the political talk shows on television.

Paul Tully, political director for the Democratic National Committee, says only one-third of the American electorate has focused on the election so far - giving Clinton many opportunities in the months ahead to take the lead.

With Perot drawing all the attention, Clinton has become almost a forgotten candidate, the third man out in this three-way race for the White House.

Yet even without press attention, Clinton's support has stabilized, and he has remained within easy striking distance of first place.

The latest ABC-Washington Post nationwide poll gives Perot 34 percent, Bush 31 percent, and Clinton 29 percent. Meanwhile, a nationwide survey by CBS shows Bush with 35 percent, Clinton 27 percent, Perot 26 percent.

Clinton's next big opportunity comes next month at the Democratic National Convention in New York City. Traditionally, national conventions give presidential candidates a big bump upward in the polls - sometimes as much as 15 percent. Analysts say it is possible that, after the July convention, Clinton could be the front-runner.

Mr. Tully says that, when voters get a better look at Perot, the Bush-Clinton-Perot race will begin to sort itself out, with Democrats in a solid position. He explains: "Everybody knows it {the country} is broken, and they want to know who can fix it. Step-by-step, Clinton is filling in who he is and what he is going to do to fix it." Once voters compare Clinton's solutions with those of Bush and Perot, Tully says, voters will find themselves much more comfortable with the Democratic approach.

Some critics scoff at that, however. Claibourne Darden Jr., an Atlanta pollster, says Clinton's campaign is basically dead. The governor sustained too much damage during the primaries because of his alleged marital infidelity, charges of draft evasion, and other matters.

But another Southern analyst, political scientist Wayne Parent at Louisiana State University, says he would put his money on Clinton if he had to pick the probable winner.

"He certainly has a chance of winning," Dr. Parent says. "Right now, Clinton is playing it rather smart, not angering Perot voters.

"There is a natural Democratic vote out there - blacks, labor, and others, 35 to 40 percent of the country. …