Clinton Basks in Starlight on Last Big Show in Office

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES - In this glamorous city of stars, President Clinton is reluctant to walk offstage.

Tomorrow night Mr. Clinton kicks off the Democratic National Convention with the valedictory address of his presidency. He hopes his speech will send his chosen successor, Vice President Al Gore, on his way to the White House.

But this weekend, as Mr. Gore trolls for votes in the Midwest, Mr. Clinton is reveling in Southern California sunshine and hobnobbing with stars such as Whoopi Goldberg, Gregory Peck and Barbra Streisand.

As Mr. Clinton arrived in Los Angeles Friday, a reporter at Los Angeles International Airport asked the president whether he is worried about overshadowing Mr. Gore.

"I've never heard him say that," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton laughed, but his understudy needs the spotlight. Mr. Gore trails Texas Gov. George W. Bush by 9 to 14 points in national polls. The convention is a critical opportunity for Mr. Gore to outline his own vision for the nation.

Gore aides say privately that Mr. Clinton deserves a victory lap. But Mr. Gore worked to minimize his stature gap with the president. Mr. Clinton initially hoped to meet with Mr. Gore in California tomorrow night following the president's speech.

Mr. Gore insisted that the president meet him in Michigan Tuesday to pass the torch. Mr. Gore arrives in Los Angeles Wednesday to take sole command of the convention.

In California, Mr. Clinton is trying not to make news. His remarks Friday at a fund-raiser for Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, and last night at a bash for Hillary Clinton's New York Senate campaign, came too late for Eastern newspapers and television broadcasts.

Mr. Clinton also canceled a series of scheduled interviews with network television anchors to avoid new questions about the Monica Lewinsky affair. Mr. Clinton's personal reflections Thursday in an interview with an Illinois pastor led newspapers and newscasts, annoying the Gore campaign.

But a president makes news wherever he goes. In Los Angeles the lame duck is a party animal.

During the Becerra reception at the Westin Century Plaza Hotel, Mr. Clinton said he and Mr. Gore deserve credit for the nation's economic turnaround.

"My old daddy used to say, if you find a turtle on a fence post, chances are it didn't get there by accident," Mr. Clinton said.

The event kicked off Mr. Clinton's wistful, frenetic weekend of thank-yous to longtime supporters who backed and bankrolled his presidential bids.

"I'm not telling you this as your president, I'm telling you this as your friend," Mr. Clinton said. "Los Angeles and this state have been wonderful to me and to my family and to my administration."

Mr. Clinton left the Westin and dined at trendy Spago with the host committee for the Democratic National Convention, "to make sure we've nailed down every detail of what we're supposed to be doing here."

Mrs. Clinton did a star turn of her own Friday night, appearing on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show." The first lady cracked that New Yorkers are telling her to go home "in 62 different languages. …