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Democrats turn Martin's rhetoric to their own use


HOUSTON -- The Democratic campaign aides sent to critique the Republican National Convention were delighted yesterday with at least one speech in the Astrodome this week -- the one by Labor Secretary Lynn Martin.

Reviewing Wednesday night's convention session, the Democrats had little to say about the talk by Marilyn Quayle, in which the vice president's wife discussed her views of the family.

"The only speech that matters is her husband's speech tonight," said Marla Romash, a spokeswoman for Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore. "She is not a candidate. She's a part of the decoration of the convention."

Betsey Wright, co-chairwoman of Democrat Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, was equally circumspect about first lady Barbara Bush's speech on family values.

"Government doesn't define what people feel about their families," Ms. Wright told reporters. "Barbara Bush did an eloquent job last night of saying, 'It's who you hug.' "

If the Democrats passed up the chance to criticize the speeches by Marilyn Quayle and Barbara Bush -- part of a strategy of not responding in kind to Republican attacks on Mr. Clinton's wife, Hillary -- they regarded Ms. Martin's address as a prime target. In her remarks, Ms. Martin repeated a question that Ronald Reagan asked the voters repeatedly in 1980. "Is America better off than she was four years ago?" Ms. Martin asked, answering: "Of course we are."

Ms. Romash, brandishing a chart showing the economy declining in 14 categories since Mr. Bush's inauguration in January 1989, said the Democrats' reaction was: "Four more years of this? You've gotta be nuts."

"Every statistic says it clearly," asserted Ms. Romash, whose chart showed an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent in July compared with 5.4 percent when the president took office, a 73 percent increase in the rate of annual business failures and a 15 percent increase in the number of welfare recipients. "We're not better off than we were four years ago," she declared. The Democrats also contended that the Republicans so far had avoided much discussion of economic issues, preferring instead attack Mr. Clinton and his wife.

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