Democrats Seeking A 'Fresh Start' with Post-Clinton Era

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Bill Bradley and Al Gore agree on one thing: Democratic voters crave a "fresh start."' That may explain why Bill Clinton's personal conduct and job performance are nagging issues in their presidential campaign.

The lingering effects of Clinton's impeachment attempt could cut more than one way for both candidates.

Many voters give Gore credit for a soaring economy but saddle him with his boss' baggage. Bradley may benefit from "Clinton fatigue," but he runs a risk of alienating Democrats loyal to their president.

"I think Democrats feel Clinton is doing a good job, and they're glad he's leaving," New Hampshire businessman Michael A. Vance said before a Bradley speech on Thursday. "I'm sure it's a mixed blessing for his vice president."

News service reports say that interviews with more than a dozen voters in Iowa and New Hampshire suggest the political atmosphere for a Democratic "fresh start".

"I'm concerned that your ability to win the election is reduced by your association with the Clinton scandal," Craig Wood of Linn County, Iowa, told Gore on Wednesday.

Referring to the president's affair with a White House intern, Gore replied, "I wouldn't have done that."

Democratic voter Karen Teig said she wasn't surprised that the issue arose because people in her circles still talk about impeachment. "It only surprised me that someone (Wood) had the guts to bring it up," she said.

Bradley is not shying from the question. At times, he seems to be running as much against Clinton as Gore.

Explaining his vote in favor of the now-unpopular "Freedom to Farm Act," Bradley said he had trusted Clinton to make changes after the bill passed. "I took his word which isn't, you know, always the best thing to do."

Bradley accused Gore of being stuck in a "Washington bunker" that Clinton helped to build. "There were the fund-raising scandals. There was the impeachment problem," the former New Jersey senator said in a recent debate.

Bradley is stepping up his attacks on the administration's farming, welfare and campaign finance reform policies, accusing both Clinton and Gore of "timid leadership."

Bradley says his references to Clinton are intended to show that Gore is part of an administration that settles for small solutions to big problems. "The real question is not Clinton. The real question is what did Gore do in all of that,'' Bradley said in a recent interview.

He said Democrats are still wrestling with the impeachment episode.

"There is some ambiguity. When a president is under attack by a hostile and almost irrational Republican majority there isn't a Democrat in the country, including me, who wouldn't come to Clinton's defense in terms of saying, 'No impeachment.' But I think that there is a large segment of the Democratic Party that is also concerned about the party continuing the direction of these small steps and symbolic actions," Bradley said.

Bradley said many independents and Democrats who can vote in New Hampshire's primary "feel that they want a fresh start" separated from Clinton and his policies.

Gore used the same phrase in Iowa on Wednesday, sometime after Wood said Clinton might be dragging him down. "We need a fresh start," Gore said. "We need a good beginning."

The vice president has offered implicit criticisms of Clinton when challenged about administration failures. After a voter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, accused the administration of doing nothing about global warming, Gore replied, "How do we change that? I believe that a president who is committed heart and soul to using the bully pulpit to change the level of public support for a vote to ratify that (global warming) treaty can make a big difference."

Yet the vice president focuses on administration successes to fend off Bradley's jibes.

In their most recent debate, Gore said, "I want to start by telling you what we were doing in that 'Washington bunker'." He gave the administration credit for 20 million new jobs, gun control laws and "the strongest economy in the history of the United States."

The vice president's advisers argue that Bradley's strategy will backfire because Democratic voters still like Clinton. They point to people like Myron Riediger, an Iowa farmer, who said Bradley shouldn't criticize Clinton's farm policies. Such negative talk "backfired bad in our hometown," Riediger said on Thursday. "Sure, times have gotten worse, but a lot of us wouldn't have even been able to hang on if it weren't for Clinton."

Clinton's impact won't be easy to measure, according to polls showing that:

\li720\fi-360\'b7\tab One quarter of Americans say Gore's ties with Clinton make them view the vice president less favorably. Four out of 10 of those who feel that way are Republicans. One quarter are independents, whose votes are critical in New Hampshire. Just one in 10 is a Democrat.
\'b7\tab Nearly 90 percent of Democrats say they're pleased with the president's job performance. Four out of five have a positive view of Clinton personally.
\'b7\tab Of socially conservative Democrats who say they're troubled by the Clinton scandal, nearly half favor Republican candidate George W Bush over Gore.

Watching Bradley walk in from the snow in Nashua, Alan Sax and the businessman Vance debated Clinton's impact on the race. "It's dangerous to knock a man who has helped bring about these good times," said Sax, 46. "He's right," said Vance, pointing to Sax. "But some people are tired of (Clinton), anyhow."