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CLINTON PUTS FINISHING TOUCHES ON TONIGHT'S SPEECH.

Byline: Alison Mitchell The New York Times

Days away from the acceptance speech that will propel him into the general election campaign, President Clinton gazed out from his train car Monday and pronounced his address nearly ready.

``It says what I want to say,'' he said. ``Now I have to say it in the best way to say it - and make sure it's not too long.''

And so after a month of drafts ferried back and forth between Clinton and a team of speech writers, the scramble to add the last oratorical flourishes was taking place on a rolling campaign train, while the writers competed for the president's attention with the crowds that kept drawing him out to the back platform of his Pullman car like a moth to light.

Four years ago, when Clinton last stood before a Democratic National Convention, his challenge was to introduce himself to the nation after a divisive party primary campaign. Now he is perhaps more well known than any of his predecessors, because of his own confessional impulses and the books his presidency has already spawned.

That means he faces a challenge different from the one Bob Dole confronted in his own acceptance speech in San Diego earlier this month.

``What he needs to do is try to tie together his proposals into a coherent whole,'' said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist. ``But most important, he has to reinforce the perception that he understands the problems that working Americans face, that he has done things to help solve those problems and has proposals for the future to help solve those problems.''

Hoping to draw a pointed contrast to the sometimes elegiac tones of Dole's speech, Clinton, his aides say, plans to look forward and describe a second-term agenda in a speech designed to convey the gravitas of a State of the Union message salted with legislative proposals and executive actions.

Aides to the president said he also would speak about the unfinished agenda in health-care coverage and an urban policy to increase jobs for the welfare recipients who will now face strict benefit limits under legislation he signed last week.

Speeches have long been Clinton's great strength and occasionally his near undoing. He can spontaneously soar to oratorical glory on the campaign trail, mesmerizing crowds without a text. In the summer of 1995, he began to rebuild his presidency with a series of addresses that staked out positions in the Republican arena of social values.

But at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, when he introduced the nominee, Michael Dukakis, Clinton spoke for more than an hour, leaving the delegates groaning and nearly ending his own ambitions. In his 1995 State of the Union message, after the Republicans won control of Congress, he spoke for 54 minutes, although the length did not seem to cost him many television viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings.

To prevent such excesses, Clinton and his advisers now begin preparing a major address perhaps a month in advance, and make sure that he has enough unscheduled time to think and write and practice.

An array of advisers has consulted with the president on this speech, chief among them Dick Morris, Clinton's political strategist, and White House communications director Don Baer, a former reporter for U.S. News & World Report.

For the past four days Baer and a full speech-writing team have been working on the train; among them are Michael Waldman and Jonathan Prince, as well as Mark Penn, Clinton's campaign pollster.

Bruce Reed, a domestic policy adviser who has been with Clinton since his 1992 campaign, also has been on the train as the guru of the new policy proposals that will be featured.

The speech-writing group has been ensconced in a second antique rail car behind Clinton's. And for instant rewrites with the president, team members have been allotted space for a computer - in the bathroom of Clinton's train car, on a vanity, between a shower and a toilet. They also have a second, roomier work space in a staff car several train cars back.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 29, 1996
Words:678
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