Democrats uniting behind confident Clinton

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The Independent Online
AN INCREASINGLY confident Governor Bill Clinton made his final preparations for this week's Democratic Convention here, backed by a rapidly unifying party and buoyed by improving poll ratings and a potentially costly blunder by Ross Perot, undeclared independent contender for the White House.

Yesterday, as the last of 4,300 delegates, a claimed 15,000 journalists, and thousands of other party dignitaries and officials gathered for Mr Clinton's ceremonial crowning in Madison Square Garden on Thursday, the stage was set for the Democrats to project the image of a party once more qualified for supreme power after 12 years of Republican rule.

Suddenly everything is going as right for Mr Clinton as it earlier went wrong. After weeks of third-place ignominy, a new poll yesterday showed him in a narrow lead over President George Bush and Mr Perot, with 28 per cent against their 26 per cent apiece.

One by one, the various streams of the party are coalescing behind him. The liberal standard-bearer, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, who will formally nominate Mr Clinton on Wednesday, called him a 'superb' choice. Grudgingly, the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson added his own endorsement of the Clinton/Gore ticket on Saturday.

Only the quixotic former governor of California, Jerry Brown, is holding out. Mr Brown, who is demanding wholesale party reform, may yet be put forward for nomination by his 616 delegates here, but most party leaders expect him to fall into line. 'We're coming close to a unified convention,' Mr Clinton told reporters.

Bolstering the mood is a sharp drop in Mr Clinton's 'negative' ratings, previously considered so high as to disbar him from victory. Almost 60 per cent of voters now believe he is qualified to be President. At the same time, a jaded Mr Bush shows no sign of halting his plunge in popularity, while Mr Perot's rating was down from 37 per cent a month earlier, suggesting that doubt and disenchantment are spreading to him.

On Saturday the Dallas billionaire may well have accelerated his slide with remarks in Nashville which many in his audience of black activists considered insensitive and condescending. Repeatedly Mr Perot referred to 'your people' or 'you people'. He later apologised, but the damage had been done.

The risk to Mr Perot is less that he will lose support from blacks than that he will have weakened his standing among middle-class whites with a liberal conscience.