Clinton Campaign Puts Pieces in Place: $24 Million Part of Re-Election Plan before Convention

Article excerpt

The few empty offices at the Clinton-Gore '96 headquarters on M Street are beginning to fill up, the surest sign yet that President Clinton's re-election campaign is gearing for the expected bitter fall battle with Sen. Bob Dole.

Assured that Mr. Dole will be the GOP nominee, the Clinton campaign's strategists have begun considering how to spend their $24 million pre-convention war chest. They have hired top aides, such as a spokesman and an administrator; alerted Democrats in traditionally Republican states such as Florida that they will run an all-out effort; and staked out special roles for 1992 advisers such as James Carville.

But critical decisions are still hanging. Among them:

* Should the president wait to be nominated or announce for re-election - and if so, when?

* Who will be the campaign manager, and when should that person be hired?

* Will Chelsea Clinton play a campaign role?

In addition, the administration and campaign are trying to figure out how to fight the expected media swoon toward Mr. Dole. A senior administration official predicted that the media will build up Mr. Dole, first focusing on whom he will pick as a running mate, then writing that he has found his campaigning form.

The media will also dwell on the expected third-party candidacy of Ross Perot, the aide said.

The expected result is that Mr. Dole will be ahead of Mr. Clinton in opinion polls by June. In a sign of the media swing, Michael Barone, co-author of the Almanac of American Politics, predicted last week that Mr. Clinton will lose to the Kansas senator 49 percent to 41 percent, with 7 percent for Mr. Perot.

But few in the White House or campaign are distressed over a poll surge by Mr. Dole. "Of course the race is going to get close," a West Wing aide said. "You guys [the media] wouldn't have it any other way."

For now, the campaign plans to remain in the shadows of the White House as the president battles with Mr. Dole and other congressional Republicans over such legislation as health and welfare reform and the budget.

"The next month will be critical for issues," said new campaign spokesman Joseph Lockhart.

Mr. Lockhart said the president will continue his weekend-warrior style of campaigning, highlighting favorite side issues: fighting teen smoking, pushing Hollywood to reduce violence and sex on television, and promoting education initiatives such as school uniforms. …