Clinton goes on tour to help poor

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The Independent Online
WHILE HIS wife took the headlines, Bill Clinton took to the road. The President is on a tour of the poorer areas of the United States, receiving a warm reception from voters and promising greater economic development.

He is doing what he does best: meeting people and chatting. On Monday he sat under a tree in Tyner, Kentucky, and drank a Mountain Dew soda with Ray Pennington in the hot sunshine. "He almost cried he was so happy," Mr Pennington's daughter, Jean Collet, said of her father, a retired farmer. "My first electricity was in 1961. I didn't have running water in a bathroom until five years ago," she said.

With cabinet-level officials and the Rev Jesse Jackson in his train, the President is visiting areas that politicians seldom see, unless they are chasing votes. "I came here to show America who you are," he said in Hazard, Kentucky. Yesterday he was in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest parts of America.

Over the next two years, as Hillary Clinton campaigns for a New York Senate seat and Vice-President Al Gore campaigns for the White House, Mr Clinton will increasingly be making trips like this: visits that are important, but which are gradually overshadowed by his wife and his deputy. He gives few signs of winding down, or of accepting his status as a lame- duck president.

The serious goal of the expedition is to boost investment in the parts of America which have not shared in the vast expansion of wealth in the last six years. "What we're trying to do here is have a pure matter of economics, pointing out to the business community what type of economic potential there is in the places left behind," said the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo. "These places are real gold mines for people who are willing to explore them".

And the President has delivered; he is trailing in his wake a series of small-scale investments by the private sector. The Bank of America said yesterday that it alone would commit $500m, part of a $15bn investment plan involving loan guarantees and tax credits soon to go before Congress.

The tour includes Appalachia, Illinois, Arizona and the Watts district of Los Angeles, all areas that are sharply at odds with the bright, shiny America of 1999. "We have to provide incentives for people to go there," the President said in Hazard, Kentucky, on Monday. "We know that government can't solve these problems alone. We know that we'll never get anywhere by leaving people alone either."

Once more, his unique talent for pressing the flesh is on display, in sharp contrast to his very controlled wife and the stiff Mr Gore. In Lexington, Kentucky, he met Meghan Johnson, 14, who has been exchanging letters with the President since she met him on the campaign trail in 1995. Wearing a T-shirt reading "First Pen Pal," she received a hug from the Mr Clinton which he described as a "presidential gut squisher".