MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Flush from a debate that he clearly feels did nothing to slow his humming campaign, President Clinton chugged exuberantly through New England yesterday, praising and thanking big business, welfare moms, the weather, the voters and even Bob Dole.
"On this gorgeous fall day, there may be somebody in America who is happier than I am," he exclaimed to a cheering throng here, "but I have no idea who it would be. I am glad to be here. Thank you, and God bless you all."
Clinton and his staff treated the day after the debate with Dole almost as a pre-election victory lap through a region of the country where they expect to run strongly. But with a month to go, Clinton showed no signs of letting up his pace.
The president's day began at a rally of business executives who came to Connecticut, where polls show Clinton leading his Republican challenger by a 2-to-1 margin. The next stop was New Hampshire, where the president delivered his standard stump speech to a spirited throng. The last event of the day was a rally in Portland, Maine, where huge crowds greeted Clinton on a pleasant autumn evening.
Four years ago, with a big assist from Ross Perot's candidacy, Clinton narrowly carried Maine and New Hampshire in a three-way race. This time, Clinton advisers say, he is so far ahead that he may pull a bunch of local and congressional Democrats into office with him.
"It's breathtaking: For the first time in history, New Hampshire is a two-party state," said Dayton Duncan, a Democratic activist in the state. "A large part of that is due to Clinton."
"The big advantage we had was the way Dole signaled how important he thought the debate was -- that one 90-minute session would fundamentally alter the chemistry of the race," said Joe Lockhart, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "That didn't happen. And it was probably an impossible goal. To win now, [Dole would] have to make up 4 percentage points a week. Do you know how many people that is?"
In an election with the usual turnout, it would come to just over 8 million voters who would have to switch their preference from Clinton to Dole. And although it was hardly a random cross-section of voters, nothing along the Clinton route yesterday offered hints of any such budding groundswell.
"I thought the president was tops in the debate," said Mary Fecteau, a real estate investor from Epping, N.H. Although she is Roman Catholic and attended parochial schools, Fecteau said, she was impressed with the way Clinton defended public education.
About Dole, Fecteau said: "I don't understand why everybody says he did so well. He still comes across as rancorous to me."
Joseph Francis, a 50-year-old disabled veteran from Manchester, said he had no problems with Dole. But Francis was not ready to commit to him.
"I thought the debate was pretty even; it was a good give and take," he said. "But Clinton seems to be getting the job done in a lot of areas."
"I thought Bill showed a lot of class," said Shery Panziers, a librarian from Goffstown. "Dole was too busy trying to put the president down."
Clinton himself had no such complaint. "I thought he did well," Clinton said of his rival in an aside to traveling reporters. "It was a good debate. I enjoyed it."
Later, Clinton told the crowd in Manchester: "I thank Bob Dole for joining me. I believe that the American people got a pretty good feel for the differences between us, in our views. And we just proved you can still do it and be civilized and decent and humane. That's the way we ought to conduct our public affairs in this country."
Earlier, in Stamford, Conn., Clinton picked up the backing of some 2,500 corporate executives who endorsed the administration as favorable for the the nation's business climate.
George David, CEO of United Technologies, offered praise for the president for his efforts to keep down interest rates and inflation, for stressing education and research in his budget and for making the need to boost U.S. exports a cornerstone of his foreign policy.
The Clinton campaign made clear that it had anticipated Dole's debate-night attack on Clinton as a liberal -- and had orchestrated the event before a segment of the usually Republican business community as a way of neutralizing that criticism.
"The day after the debate, the president came to Stamford and showed he was not a liberal," said Eli Segal, a top White House adviser. "This is proof of what a 'New Democrat' does."
The executive who introduced Clinton to her fellow CEOs was a woman from Marietta, Ga. -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich's district -- who told a harrowing, but ultimately uplifting, story of being orphaned at 11, married at 15, kicked out of school for being pregnant at 16, and widowed at 26.
The woman, Carolyn Staddler, started her asphalt-paving business by shoveling concrete out of a back of a pickup. She struggled along, built her company, but then almost went out of business during the 1990 and 1991 recession. "Then President Clinton was elected," she said.
She acknowledged that she had not voted for him in 1992, news that Clinton greeted with a smile and a shrug. She then added: "But I'm certainly going to this time. And the reasons are personal. Things are better for me, better for [my company] and better for our employees."
Pub Date: 10/08/96