The US Presidential Elections: Democrats show magic touch

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The Independent Online
THE SPEECH was powerful, delivered with a lawyer's incisiveness and mastery. Most telling though was the person who gave it. Hillary Clinton, not long ago perceived as a dangerous liability to her husband's drive for the White House, is back. There could be no more visible sign of the Democrats' conviction that the presidency will shortly once again be theirs.

These are magical days for the Clinton campaign. The passing of the final debate without mishap visibly has been a liberation, and its confidence knows few bounds. At this stage of the game, Bill Clinton ought to be concentrating on turning probable states into certainties: instead a politician famed for caution yesterday threw caution to the winds, carrying the battle into once impregnable Republican strongholds of the West. But nothing spoke louder than the return of Hillary.

For months she has been under wraps, seen but rarely heard, the supposed 'feminazi' and Dragon Lady of the Left whose one unwary utterance might give her foes new heart. On Tuesday night, however, before an indoor rally here of 8,000 people as delirious as fans at a pop concert, she was allowed to lead the charge.

'Welcome to the first First Woman of the United States,' shouts the announcer as Hillary strides to the microphone, a designation which alone leaves scant doubt she will be a power behind the throne in a Clinton White House. For nearly 10 minutes she dissects the Bush-Quayle record, promising a new American dawn on 4 November: 'People must make the difference. We have a new vision of what our country should be.'

Not that Mr Clinton, who spoke next, was a let-down. Indeed, his speech was one of his best, by turns funny, inspirational and savage towards George Bush. No longer are trust and character his Achilles' heel, but weapons to be turned against the President. For the first time he is slashing into the imbroglio of the administration's pre-war dealings with Iraq: 'This fellow wants four more years on the basis of 'trust' - yet here are his CIA, his FBI and his Justice Department admitting the government lied, and now calling each other liars as well.'

No less revealing, everyone wants to cling to his coat-tails. Four years ago, Democrat contenders for Congress shrank at the prospect of a visit from Michael Dukakis. In Milwaukee, just as a few hours earlier in Chicago, candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate jammed the speaker's podium, queuing for the blessing of the party's saviour.

Maybe he is starting to capture his country's imagination. The crowd of 20,000 which jammed into Daly Plaza in Chicago's business district was one of the biggest of the campaign. 'My fellow Americans,' he declares in conscious shades of John Kennedy, 'however much Bush tries, he cannot make this election about him or about me. It's about you.'

Then, for a few hours, it was back to Little Rock, where a committee of advisers is urgently drawing up lists of names and recommendations for the transfer of power, to be settled well before Inauguration Day next 20 January. Unless the pollsters are heading for an unprecedented disaster, only the size of a Clinton mandate remains to be determined. That factor explains the three-day 'Winning the West' tour on which the Arkansas governor has embarked.

Officially, complacency is out. 'There are two weeks to go, and this is still a hard race,' he told the faithful waiting on the tarmac at Little Rock's airport. But if he truly believed that, he would not be squandering time on a handful of states with few electoral votes, many of them Republican for more than a generation. Since Lyndon Johnson's day, the closest view Democrat presidential candidates have had of places like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada has been from 30,000 feet aboard a plane carrying them to California, the one prize in that part of the world that mattered. This time though, Colorado is a Clinton probable; the other three could go Democrat for the first time since the 1960s.

And even his Secret Service men are smiling. Something really has changed already.

(Photograph omitted)

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