DENVER -- Warming up for his re-election campaign next year, President Clinton yesterday brought his week-long fund-raising trip to Colorado, where he denounced Republican proposals on Medicaid and other social programs as unduly harsh.
The president's popularity in the West has slipped, and Colorado is one of several Western states that Mr. Clinton captured in the 1992 election but that now pose sharp challenges for him.
Speaking at a Catholic retirement and nursing home here, the president told residents that the federal budget must be balanced, but not with the deep cuts in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid that have been proposed by Republican leaders in Congress.
"The congressional proposal endangers the Medicaid program that makes it possible for places like this wonderful home to exist," Mr. Clinton said.
"America has always been, and must always be, a community, not a crowd. A crowd is a collection of people who are all on their own -- the survival of the fittest. A community is a group of people that recognizes that they have a responsibility to each other."
Mr. Clinton flew later to Pueblo for a speech defending his education goals, then returned to Denver for a dinner with Vice President Al Gore that Democrats hoped would raise at least $500,000 for the local re-election campaign.
Colorado was the third stop on a political swing that earlier took Mr. Clinton to Pennsylvania and Florida and will continue today in California, all states critical to his chances for a second White House term. He hopes to raise about $5 million on the four-state foray.
In seeking to balance the budget, Mr. Clinton said, Americans are obligated to the generation that survived the Great Depression, and won World War II and the Cold War, and must not undercut the two health care plans -- Medicare and Medicaid -- on which that generation depends.
At the same time, he said, the nation must guard against mortgaging the future of America's children with budget deficits.
Mr. Clinton continued his criticism of the Republican congressional leadership for advocating reductions in the growth health care costs while calling for a $245 billion tax cut, the bulk of which, he said, would go to "people like me who don't need it and haven't asked for it."
The president reminded his listeners at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged that during his administration, the budget deficit has declined from $290 billion to $160 billion. He also reiterated his view that Medicare and Medicaid would not need to be shrunk so greatly if the federal budget were balanced over a longer period than the seven years the Republicans have set.
The president's position on budget-balancing, which includes a proposed tax cut smaller than the Republicans' plan and targeted to middle-income taxpayers, does not please one Colorado Democrat. Former Gov. Richard D. Lamm boycotted the visit and instead greeted Mr. Clinton with a scathingly critical open letter to him in the Denver Post.
Explaining his absence from last night's fund-raiser, Mr. Lamm wrote: "I value our friendship, but I can neither understand nor excuse your recent actions on the federal budget."
After commending the president for his earlier deficit reductions, Mr. Lamm lambasted him for proposing a tax cut this year, albeit a smaller one than the Republicans are pushing. "When we needed your leadership," Mr. Lamm wrote, "you turned political and backed away."
The most recent telephone survey of voters in the Denver area, by a local pollster, suggests Colorado is up for grabs. Equal proportions -- 41 percent -- said they approved or disapproved of Mr. Clinton's performance, and 69 percent said they would consider voting for an independent candidate.