Tsongas says economic policies will decide race with Clinton


Now that the New Hampshire primary is over, Paul E. Tsongas is training his sights on second-place finisher Bill Clinton.

"No one argues that what Bill has put forth is more viable than mine," Mr. Tsongas said yesterday, enumerating deficiencies in his fellow Democrat's economic plan. "No one argues that but Bill."

The former Massachusetts senator believes that the race is down to two men, and that it will be decided on economic policy.

He isn't taking shots at Mr. Clinton's character, which became a central campaign issue in New Hampshire following disclosures about his draft record and allegations of marital infidelity.

"Who's perfect?" Mr. Tsongas said when asked whether he was troubled by questions involving Mr. Clinton's character.

Mr. Tsongas spoke with reporters during a flight from Manchester, N.H., to Baltimore, where he kicked off his effort to win the March 3 Maryland primary with a downtown rally. Later, he expanded on his post-New Hampshire strategy in an interview with The Sun.

He outlined a week-by-week plan for survival based initially on winning, or doing very well, in the Maine caucuses Sunday and in the Maryland and Colorado primaries two weeks away.

He acknowledges that Mr. Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, has the advantage in the round of Southern primaries March 10. "I think in some respects, in some states, Bill will have a regional advantage," he said.

Even so, Mr. Tsongas says he'll campaign in Florida and may even take a stab at Texas, which are among the states with primaries March 10.

Much depends on money. It is flowing rapidly after his victory Tuesday, he says, but it could slow to a trickle if he falters in states like Maryland, where he needs to do well.

Running a more money-driven campaign is a new experience for Mr. Tsongas. He won in New Hampshire on a shoestring budget stretched over months of face-to-face appeals to voters.

"We're going to be more dependent on TV, which is why this funding becomes critical," he said, adding the obvious: "No money, no prospects."

His campaign was in "desperate shape" a month ago, he said, but as he began to rise in the New Hampshire polls money started coming in. "People have to be believing me on the issues, but they also have to think they're not wasting their money."

For that reason he believes that two New Hampshire also-rans, Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, face elimination. "I would presume for both of them raising money is going to be difficult," he said.

Last night in New York, Mr. Tsongas expected to collect $250,000, largely from Greek-Americans. They have been a reluctant source because of the disappointing performance of another Greek-American from Massachusetts, 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis, in the race against George Bush.

"The problem has never been my message," Mr. Tsongas said between bites of a sandwich yesterday, on his way back to Baltimore-Washington International Airport after the rally.

"The problem has always been, given what happened in 1988, whether they want to care again, want to go through that process."

The contest with Mr. Clinton pits two men who became friends even while campaigning against each other in New Hampshire. They are as different in style and background as two men can be, but for Mr. Tsongas the key distinctions are in economic plans.

While Mr. Clinton favors a tax cut for the middle class, Mr. Tsongas views that as a waste of money in a time of huge deficits. Mr. Tsongas also criticizes Mr. Clinton for not having an adequate plan to stimulate manufacturing. He says Mr. Clinton's various program proposals are budget busters.

Lastly, Mr. Tsongas said, completing the report card, "is the lack of a deficit plan."

"I propose a freeze" of the federal budget, he said, "and there is no counterproposal from the other side."

Getting his sometimes-complex ideas across will be a challenge. Campaigning in New Hampshire, he printed 200,000 copies of his manifesto, "A Call to Economic Arms." But with so many primaries looming in such a short period, he says he will rely on television and word-of-mouth advertising based on additional distribution of his booklet.

"Someone who takes it and reads it," he said, referring to his booklet, "will be a disciple, talking to people. And this thing just grows exponentially."

Talking with Mr. Tsongas, it becomes clear there's no grand strategy for winning. In fact, he says the strategy hasn't changed even after winning in New Hampshire. It is, he said, to "be the last person standing."

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