WASHINGTON--With the newspaper tabloid obstacle course of the New York primary behind him, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton hopes for a more placid political environment in Pennsylvania as he drives to nail down the Democratic presidential nomination.
After a long weekend off to rest his rasping voice and chart strategy for the next primary in the Keystone State on Apr. 28, Clinton is looking forward to campaigning in a place whose major newspapers have a record of giving much less attention to sensationalism.
But perhaps more important is the fact that the Jerry Brown who slashed at him in New York, and provided the tabloids there with much (though not all) of the fodder for their screaming, mocking headlines rejoins the fray with a greatly diminished credibility.
Brown went into New York riding on his surprise primary victory in Connecticut, elevating himself temporarily to the status of a semi-serious candidate as a stop-Clinton vehicle. His embarrassing third-place finish behind former Sen. Paul Tsongas, on the ballot but a non-campaigner, should enable Clinton to pay less attention to him in Pennsylvania, focusing instead on his own agenda and on President Bush.
"We hope to avoid the dog-eat-dog sort of debate and campaign we had in New York," says David Wilhelm, Clinton's campaign manager. While it will not be entirely possible to look past Brown, he says, "we have to get back to the candidacy of substance that took place before the New Hampshire primary when Bill Clinton was known as the candidate with 28 answers on 28 policy questions."
Wilhelm points to Clinton's foreign-policy speech in New York,
reiterating his call for more aid to the former Soviet republics and taking credit for goading Bush into proposing the same. That kind of speech, he says, showed the Clinton the campaign wants to present.
Such temptations are less likely in Pennsylvania. A Clinton speech on economics at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia was put on his immediate schedule as the sort of heavy-duty issue discussion that Clinton's managers see as essential to restore his image as the policy junkie required to push the personal questions out of the limelight.
Pennsylvania is also viewed by the Clinton insiders as a golden opportunity for their candidate to cement his standing as the candidate of organized labor that he established in beating Tsongas and Brown in industrial Illinois and Michigan and confirmed in New York.
Although labor has lost much of its political clout everywhere, one state where it remains effective is Pennsylvania. When Democrat Harris Wofford upset former Republican Gov. Richard Thornburgh for the Senate last fall, he credited labor's help. The decision of the AFL-CIO Executive Council's Committee on Political Work to recommend endorsement of Clinton at the Council's May 5 meeting is expected to ignite much of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's political machinery for him in the primary, weeks before that formal action is taken.
At the same time, the Clinton strategists are looking to a decisive victory over Brown and Tsongas to unglue a substantial number of the 772 unpledged "superdelegates" -- high party and elected officials who will get a free pass to the convention. Some have already committed to Clinton and he is to address congressional members of this group in a Washington visit the day after the Pennsylvania primary.
"If we have a strong result coming out of Pennsylvania and immediately followed by a coalescing of superdelegates," he says, "that could be the clincher."
Brown has vowed to carry the contest through the primary in his home state of California, but this scenario could render that contest moot.
As for Tsongas, Wilhelm says his supporters are welcome in the Clinton camp but no overt effort will be made to recruit them as long as Tsongas' campaign remains "in suspension." But Clinton does not intend to cold-shoulder defeated Democrats as the Michael Dukakis campaign did in 1988, he says, seeing unity as a key once the dust clears.