Small-town voters hail Clinton's road-show

BILL CLINTON arrived back at his hotel from his morning jog yesterday, glowing not just from physical effort but also from the knowledge that his campaign for president is on a roll.

Ten minutes later, Mr Clinton was back in the lobby ready for the final leg of his 'First Thousand Miles' bus tour through the American Mid-West. First stop of the day was a high school outside Louisville, Kentucky, and from there on to southern Indiana and Illinois.

And through the caravan of eight buses word spread like a bushfire about the huge lead over President Bush that Mr Clinton had built up in the latest opinion polls. 'This is just super, super,' the campaign people gasped.

Mr Clinton's staff are lost for words to describe how well they believe the campaign is going. Last week's New York convention was judged a smash hit and their candidate, accompanied by his running-mate, Al Gore, is drawing much larger crowds than anyone expected.

Like most of the states on the tour, which winds up in St Louis, Missouri, today, Kentucky is a must win for the Democrat team. The highlight here was an 'electronic town meeting' on Monday night in the studios of WHAS TV, the local Louisville station. For 60 minutes, Mr Clinton and Mr Gore stood before a studio audience, with live hook-ups to additional audiences around the state, answering questions.

Both men rendered a chopped- up version of their traditional stump speeches. Putting the people first, looking after the 'forgotten middle class' and so on. A backdrop bore theme words denoting the country's problems - drugs, crime, unemployment and the simple word 'Bush'.

Halfway through came a gift from the Republican opposition. Dan Quayle had pre-recorded a comment attacking Mr Clinton for his pledge to raise taxes for the very wealthy, alleging the strategy would turn into tax increases for all. 'Read my lips,' shot back Mr Clinton to roars of approval from the studio crowd. He swiftly added: 'No, I'm only joking. No responsible person would do what George Bush did and promise never to raise taxes.'

Above all, this tour is designed to touch hearts in small-town rural America. The chance for Mr Clinton to appeal to the people of Kentucky came with a question on the future of the tobacco industry. Current federal support for growers should stay, he argued, harvesting more applause and banner headlines in the local press.

Seneca High School is a local model for what can be done to keep young teenagers off the streets in the summer. The school, where Mr Clinton addressed pupils, teachers and parents for nearly an hour, runs a summer programme with pupils attending lessons in the morning and working part-time for local employers in the afternoon.

At the end June Tobin, a school career planner, remained uncertain about whether Mr Clinton had the answers for America's educational problems. Asked what she thought of him she shrugged and said: 'I'm still not sure.'

(Photograph omitted)