Democrats plan rapid programme of change

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WASHINGTON - If he wins the White House this November, the Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton, will use his new Vice-President, Albert Gore, to spearhead his drive to have Congress enact a 100-day programme of change, to help America 'break out of the straitjacket' of '12 years' Reagan/Bush rule', writes Rupert Cornwell.

At a joint press conference in Little Rock, 72 hours before the Democratic convention in New York, the two members of what is the youngest presidential ticket in the US this century made clear they would be a 'real partnership and a real team', relying heavily on Mr Gore's proven expertise in foreign policy, new technology and environmental issues.

'I will undertake this assignment with relish,' the Tennessee Senator, who at 44 is only two years younger than his fellow southerner Mr Clinton, said of his appointed role as congressional point-man. The country was in a rut - 'this ticket offers the best chance to get change,' Mr Gore declared.

Both men scoffed at suggestions they would be vulnerable to the same charges of 'liberalism' with which Mr Bush demolished Michael Dukakis, his Democratic rival, four years ago, and which Republican leaders were airing anew only hours after Mr Gore's appointment. 'They do that every election,' Mr Clinton said, 'but this time that old dog won't hunt.'

As if to underline the point, he brushed aside the refusal of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to endorse the Clinton/Gore ticket: 'He'll just have to make up his mind like every other American,' said the Arkansas Governor. Mr Clinton derided as 'patently absurd' Mr Bush's claim that Republicans are best equipped to protect family values. 'It's just a way of getting off the hook that they have no vision, no programme and no plan,' he said.

From Helsinki, the President hit back by vowing he would fight the campaign 'on the issues', and urging his backers to 'stay out of the sleaze business'. Republican lawyers, he said, had requested a supporter to cancel a planned phone service in which callers could hear sexual conversations between Mr Clinton and his alleged long-time mistress, Gennifer Flowers.

Mr Clinton has denied any impropriety. But for all Mr Bush's disclaimers, the Republicans may be relied upon to use every trick in the book - in what promises to be a vicious and dirty campaign - to highlight the Clinton 'character' issue, and the charges against him of adultery and evasion of the Vietnam draft.