CORONADO, Calif. -- President Clinton, sounding more like a presidential candidate than a sitting president, took his show on the road yesterday, where he still can turn out a crowd -- and still inspire Americans with his vision of a high-tech, high-wage America on the move.
"In the last 3 1/2 months, we have made a real beginning toward turning this country around," Mr. Clinton told several hundred cheering Californians as he arrived at a naval air base here. "And we're going to stay until the job is done."
The first stop on the president's two-day swing through New Mexico and California was at the Los Alamos, N.M., national laboratory, which began work 50 years ago on the atomic bomb that ended World War II and that subsequently produced new generations of nuclear weapons that helped the United States win the Cold War.
"You all should be proud of that," Mr. Clinton told a cheering throng on a sun-drenched Los Alamos football field. "That's a good 50 years of work if I ever heard of it."
Most of the rest of his speech was devoted to telling his audience what they already know -- and better than most: that the United States' toughest economic challenge today is switching the nation's best scientific minds to the pursuit of peacetime products instead of bombs so that the nation can compete in the highly competitive world markets of the future.
"If we are going to march confidently into the 21st century, we will have to do it on the minds and with the creativity and with the investment represented here in this laboratory and others like it around the country," Mr. Clinton said.
The president toured various divisions of the Los Alamos National Laboratory already busy with this challenge. He was bowled over by a high-energy chamber that uses ions to reinforce metal and told the audience that this could revolutionize the U.S. ability to build cars and other steel products.
"This technology was a direct out growth of the Strategic Defense Initiative," the president told the audience, a reference to the program popularly known as "star wars" that was discontinued last week by his administration. But Mr. Clinton gave credit where it was due -- former President Ronald Reagan, in this case.
"Something good came of ["star wars"] because we were looking to break down the frontiers of the human mind and explore unexplored territory," the president added.
The big crowd hooted a bit when Mr. Clinton committed a presidential slip of the tongue, referring once to Los Alamos as "Los Angeles," the city he is to visit today. But he was forgiven when he let fly with a good-natured joke at his own expense: Talking about visiting the labs before his speech, Mr. Clinton laughed and said, "It's pretty humbling when you're a president and you walk into a room and you realize you're lowering the average IQ in the room just by going in the door."
The president and his staff have insisted that outside the high-pressure political caldron of Washington, Americans were more patient to see what kind of president Mr. Clinton would be and more tolerant of a new president's mistakes.
Judging from the comments of dozens of those who turned out to see him yesterday, many of whom waited hours to see him, the president and his people are on to something.
After the speeches in Los Alamos and in Coronado across the bay from San Diego, the president worked the crowds enthusiastically, shaking hands and exchanging "high fives." In California, when Mr. Clinton made a reference to young people, teen-agers in the audience shouted joyously and raised their fists, and parents held up toddlers.
In New Mexico, a group of young people waved a saxophone and chanted, "Play the sax!" The president responded, "I gotta go, you guys. Play for me." One in the group then broke into a rendition of "Louie, Louie."
"I didn't vote for him," said Ellie Giovanielli, a school volunteer who chaperoned an elementary school class to the event. "But give him a little more time."
Nita Taylor, a Republican activist in Los Alamos County, added, "I'm disappointed, but he's only just begun, so I'll wait."
On a glorious day in the high desert, Mr. Clinton wasn't the only one in campaign mode. The crowd was warmed up by a trio of girls from elementary school doing the Mexican hat dance, two groups of Pueblo Indian dancers, a mariachi band and loud, piped-in rock music.
As the crowd awaited the president, the mood was festive as thousands of people cheered, celebrated, waved flags and generally enjoyed themselves.
Little Sasha Quintana, 5, stood on an empty oil drum waving a U.S. flag and straining to see the president. "He's good," the child said. "I think he should be king."
Rose Lujan, Sasha's grandmother, came to Los Alamos as a small child herself in 1943, when the government created a secret national laboratory to build the atomic bomb.
Since then, Los Alamos has grown to a big company town with more than 18,000 people, 7,500 of whom work in the government-supported labs in one capacity or another.
The only president to come here before Mr. Clinton was John F. Kennedy, who came at the height of the Cold War when no one questioned the role the scientists and engineers here played in national security.
The president ignored one woman who shouted, "Go into Bosnia," preferring to focus on the economy.
In California, Mr. Clinton spoke about his accomplishments in language more normally associated with the campaign trail.
"When you hear people say, 'No, no, no,' " he said in reference to his Republican opponents in Congress, "ask them where they were the last 12 years."