WASHINGTON -- Acknowledging that the Republicans put on a well-staged spectacle, Democrats have set two goals going into their own national convention: to raise doubts about the tax-cut plan and the moderate image the Republicans touted, and then use the president's aura of incumbency to reach out to independent-minded voters.
In effect, Democratic aides said, they hope to have President Clinton bring the Oval Office with him to the convention in Chicago at the end of the month, striking the kind of "above the fray" tone he has sought all year, by announcing executive actions and making scarce mention of his opponents.
The president's aides say his address accepting the nomination will sound much like a State of the Union Message, complete with second-term executive and legislative proposals.
And while Democrats say they will not be shy about hammering home the policy differences between their party and the GOP, they also say they want to avoid the kind of personal ridicule that the Republicans heaped on Clinton at their convention in San Diego.
They believe that that tone, while popular in the partisan environment of the convention hall, backfires with voters less anchored to a political party.
"I thought the Republicans crossed the line of 'singe but don't burn,' " said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the general chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"I'm determined to the extent possible not to have the convention turn into a schoolyard playground rhetoric that aims at the personalities of people," Dodd added.
In his weekly radio address yesterday, Clinton provided an example of how he plans to counter the Republican tax-cutting message without going directly after Bob Dole.
Never directly mentioning his opponent, he set out his own proposals for tax cuts for education and child rearing as an alternative to the Republican nominee's more sweeping tax-cut plan.
"We agree on one thing," he said. "Americans do deserve a tax cut. But we must choose between a tax cut that responsibly balances the budget and one that puts our economy at risk."
Putting the final touches on their own convention, Clinton's lieutenants insisted that they were not rewriting their plans in light of the Republicans' generally successful attempt to package the just-ended San Diego convention into a smooth, made-for-television picture of harmony.
But they admitted that they were still scrapping, booking and scheduling speakers in an effort to ensure that their four-day gathering in Chicago proves newsworthy and gives them a lift to match the one that polls suggest Dole received.
Planners said that Hillary Rodham Clinton would have a prominent speaking role, despite the controversies that make her a polarizing figure.
Clinton advisers said the first lady had begun working on a speech three weeks ago, before Elizabeth Dole's star turn at the Republican convention, when she roamed the floor with a microphone and spoke reverently of her husband.
Vice President Al Gore's wife, Tipper, also will have a speaking role, most likely immediately before Mrs. Clinton.
Gore will make his own acceptance speech.
Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana is to deliver the keynote address, being featured as a young, can-do Democratic governor in something of the Clinton mold.
Like the Republicans, the Democrats will feature plenty of appearances by ordinary Americans, which they hope to use to highlight the themes of opportunity, responsibility and community that Clinton has returned to repeatedly since the "New Covenant" speeches with which he first defined his presidential candidacy in 1991.
One night of the convention is being envisioned as devoted solely to Americans speaking about overcoming personal difficulties and the effect of government policies.
The actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident last year, is under consideration as a speaker, having tested well in a public survey by Clinton's pollsters to gauge the popularity of possible convention speakers.
The Democrats also want to put forth a Republican, someone with the stature of a Sarah Brady, who became an advocate for gun control after her husband, James S. Brady, was shot in the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life.
Pub Date: 8/18/96