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Clinton cautiously looks ahead, even as he looks over shoulder


BATON ROUGE, La. -- Buoyed by Thursday's debate, Bill Clinton talked yesterday like he would soon be president, entertaining questions about what he would do in January to bolster the economy.

Mr. Clinton's aides, meanwhile, declared him the winner of the debate.

"I thought I heard a lot of Americans making up their minds last night," a confident campaign chief of staff, Eli Segal, said yesterday.

For the Clinton camp, the endgame of the campaign has begun. Promising a packed campaign schedule after Monday's final debate in Michigan, Mr. Segal told reporters, "You're all going to be exhausted by the end of the [next] 2 1/2 weeks."

Conceding little to President Bush, Mr. Clinton will take his campaign to all regions of the United States, including such states as Louisiana, which Republicans have consistently won in previous elections.

The Democratic nominee himself sounds alternately confident and nervous. One moment he talks about the future, and the next he cautions supporters not to assume that he will win.

"Listen, it's not over till it's over," he told several thousand cheering partisans at a rally in Richmond, Va.

But not long afterward, he told reporters before boarding a plane for Louisiana that he's considering what steps to take to stimulate the economy if it's still in the doldrums come January.

He was responding to questions about a Los Angeles Times story yesterday that quoted Clinton economic advisers as saying it might be necessary to increase spending and cut taxes more sharply than Mr. Clinton had indicated he would do if elected.

Mr. Clinton said he hadn't made up his mind. While he said it might become necessary to take extra steps to spark the economy, he insisted that "at this time" he isn't considering delaying deficit reduction.

"We might be in the worst recession since the end of World War II," he said. "Real serious structural problems. And I think it's something we need to look at, getting people to work again, getting incomes up . . . but I haven't made any specific decision."

Mr. Clinton continued to nurse his ailing voice and had his wife, Hillary, do most of the talking at the rally outside the Capitol in Richmond. Although there were a few boos when she said he wouldn't be able to speak at length, she won over the crowd with her version of Mr. Clinton's basic campaign speech.

She implored the people to "have the courage to change," which is the hurdle voters must leap to pick a challenger over an incumbent.

Later in the day, he joined his running mate, Sen. Al Gore, at Southern University in Baton Rouge. They met up there with several Democratic black members of Congress conducting a get-out-the-vote bus tour in the South.

Again saving Mr. Clinton's strained voice, Mr. Gore, his wife, Tipper, and Mrs. Clinton did most of the talking.

Referring to Mr. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, Mr. Gore said, "You know what, ladies and gentlemen . . . they've only got a few more days. But we need your help to make sure they only have a few more days," he said. "The fat lady hasn't sung," he added, but "I hear her warming up."

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