Faith-healing in America; Clinton has the touch

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The Independent Online
The message, or rather the messages, may be different this time, subtly changed to suit the audience of the hour. But the messenger is not. The blue-and-gold seal ceremoniously affixed to the rostrum at every stop may read "President of the United States of America". But Bill Clinton - just as four years ago, just as always - is doing what he loves most and does best. Campaigning.

This of course is his last big tour (the Constitution forbids more than two terms) but he still dives into ethnic diners to wolf down chicken with his aides, and still presses flesh for 15 minutes after each stump appearance. This barn-storming finale to his electoral career could be his first campaign for governor in Arkansas 18 years ago, or his bravura performance in New Hampshire in 1992 (brilliantly fictionalised in the novel Primary Colors). Mr Clinton draws voltage from a crowd; he fuses its energy with his own.

The ruddy face with the close-coiffed silver hair beams from the furthest corner of the arena. No matter the meaningless gush of words, about "bridges to the 21st century" or the babble of statistics about pre-qualification schemes for single mothers who want to set up a business. It is the cadence of the words which matters, not what they mean. Mr Clinton's conduct of government may be questionable, but as a campaigner he is mesmeric.

With five days to polling day, the President is having a riot. And why not? Handsome re-election next Tuesday seems a foregone conclusion. Everywhere his crowds are boisterous, not just because they're on the winning side, but because they are in communion with Bill Clinton, the some-time sinner made saint. "Oh God, You've got to believe it, I touched him," a girl gasped to her friend as she fought free of the throng around the President in the Denver Coliseum, more usually the home of cattle auctions and rodeos, but this evening site of a presidential "Meeting with the people of Colorado".

At each event, such tension as arises is provided by a token handful of hecklers, but Mr Clinton can deal with them in his sleep. Half a dozen turned up in Denver. "Every dog has a few fleas," grinned the President. "With their side's record, no wonder they're screaming."

As always, Mr Clinton plays his cards shamelessly. Aboard Air Force One on its 3,000-mile aerial odyssey westward, this chameleon of politicians changes colours anew. Somewhere high above the prairie, shoes are replaced by cowboy boots, and the drawling accent thickens.

For the first time since 1948, a Democrat may even carry Arizona, breaking the longest single state-losing streak in modern presidential politics. Much has changed here since Harry Truman's times. The Arizona of legend is a frontier land of rattlesnakes, the OK Corral, the Grand Canyon and the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater. It has turned into a California of the desert, where the votes which matter belong not to ranchers or the far-right militiamen who thrive in these parts, but to pensioners worried about Medicare, to women alarmed by the Republicans' anti-abortion absolutism, and to small businesses thriving on the boom that has turned Phoenix into the ninth largest city in the country.

Almost never does he mention Bob Dole by name. "My opponent" is the usual designation, or "my distinguished opponent" when a barb is on the way. Figures showing that the economy was still growing and that inflation was minimal were hailed by Mr Dole as proof of "the worst economy in 20 years". Ah, the President said, "two weeks ago he said it was the worst economy in 100 years, so we're making progress".

Clinton profile, page 22

How fiction caught the true colours of the President

"I've seen him do it two million times now, but I couldn't tell you how he does it, the right-handed part of it - the strength, quality, duration of it, the rudiments of pressing the flesh ... If he doesn't know you all that well, and you've just told him something `important', something earnest or emotional, he will lock in and honour you with a two-hander, his left hand overwhelming you with his wrist and forearm.

He'll flash that famous misty look of his. And he will mean it."

From the opening scene of Primary Colors, the novel about the 1992 election campaign by Anonymous (later revealed as the Newsweek journalist Joe Klein). The narrator is describing an encounter with Governor Jack Stanton, the Clintonesque candidate. The New York Times described it as "the best word- picture of the Clinton treatment ever put on paper".