CHICAGO -- President Clinton comes to Chicago today to raise money for the re-election campaign of Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun. Desperate for help, she will have no reservations about having him here, political baggage and all.
Elected six years ago as the first African-American woman to enter the Senate, Moseley-Braun has earned much political baggage of her own through a series of personal and political missteps, making her the clear underdog against Republican state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a wealthy conservative.
The president -- occupied with budget negotiations with Congress as well as a Mideast peace summit on Maryland's Eastern Shore -- is staying in Chicago only a few hours for a single event.
The fund-raising lunch for Moseley-Braun is expected to raise $250,000 from about 50 contributors.
The event is being sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is trying to keep her competitive with Fitzgerald in the costly television-commercial war marking the final weeks in a campaign in which Moseley-Braun is struggling to close a wide gap in the polls.
Fitzgerald leads the senator in the latest Chicago Tribune poll, 49 percent to 36 percent, and has been outspending Moseley-Braun, committing more than $2 million of his own money in what he says will be a $7 million general election campaign to oust her.
XTC Clinton's brief trip is part of his continuing effort to preserve Democratic ranks in Congress -- an acutely critical concern for Clinton, who is counting on his fellow party members to stave off the threat of impeachment.
Before Clinton's admission of having an "inappropriate intimate relationship" with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the Democrats had entertained long-shot hopes of regaining control of the House by gaining 11 seats. Now their prime objective is limiting losses and preventing the Republicans from picking up the five Senate seats they need to raise their total to a veto-proof 60.
Moseley-Braun's seat is considered to be the most vulnerable. As a black female, she was the star of the 1992 Democratic Senate class that marked "The Year of the Woman." The two other Democratic women elected that year, Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Patty Murray of Washington, both are in tough re-election fights, but neither is faring as poorly in the polls as is Moseley-Braun.
Of all her political problems, which include allegations of using campaign funds to buy travel tickets and expensive jewelry for personal use, the one that appears to have hurt her most has been repeated travel to Nigeria.
In 1996, she met there with Gen. Sani Abacha, the dictator now dead who was widely condemned for human-rights abuses. That association hurt her particularly with black voters, who are critical to her re-election prospects.
Moseley-Braun began airing a TV commercial this week acknowledging that she had made "some mistakes," then adding, "I've always tried to do what's best for Illinois."
But the accumulation of her questionable actions and spending has eroded her credibility to the point that 47 percent of those surveyed in the Chicago Tribune poll rated her unfavorably, to only 21 percent who gave Fitzgerald an unfavorable rating.
Notably, the fund-raiser for Moseley-Braun will be private and the president will make no public appearance while in Chicago.
One reason for Clinton's low-profile visit might be that while the polls continue to show strong opposition to impeaching the president, public rallies provide the occasion for hecklers to demonstrate against him before TV cameras.
Also, says David Axelrod, a veteran Chicago political consultant, with voters "fairly or unfairly passing judgment" on Moseley-Braun, Clinton with his own troubles "is not in position -- to be her best character witness."
Pub Date: 10/16/98