Bill Clinton’s lazy weekend wandering to vote-rich California produced little news and less excitement. But his goal from the outset was political, plain and simple: Just be there.
There was a speech on corporate responsibility and a NetDay96 challenge to Californians to hook the Internet into state schools. He raised a few bucks, wooed some Hollywood fat cats and was playing a round or two of golf.
But he accomplished all his political brain trust had hoped simply by making the cross-country trek, his 23rd as president. The visit served as a warning to likely GOP nominee Bob Dole: Be prepared to spend lots of cash and time on California’s 54 electoral votes - or concede the state early to Clinton.
The trip was dressed in the trappings of the presidency. Large crowds, impressive event sites and front-page publicity set Clinton’s visit apart from anything Dole or any GOP rival could muster.
He kept an unusually light schedule, making one public appearance each day and spending most of his time away from the press and public. He appeared at the NetDay96 event Saturday in a blue sport shirt and blazer, forsaking the standard suit-and-tie for casual California togs.
Baggy-eyed and tired after a late-night dinner party in Malibu, the president was anxious to keep a tee time at a nearby golf course.
But first, the president paid homage to 20,000 volunteers helping to wire one-fifth of California’s 13,000 schools to the Internet.
“We are putting the future at the fingertips of your children,” Clinton said in a brief speech beneath sunny skies in balmy Northern California, a pleasant contrast to the bitter cold and snow of Washington.
In a fitting nod to the political nature of this trip, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” blared from loudspeakers as Clinton stepped from the stage and helped lay computer cable at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord.
Saturday’s “high-tech barn-raising” plays into Clinton-Gore campaign polls that show parents are concerned about access to computers in schools. NetDay96 was an idea fostered by Gore and promoted by Clinton on a previous California visit.
Clinton will find it very difficult to win re-election without winning California. He took the state in 1992 after then-President Bush struggled from the start in the nation’s most populous state.
Republicans promised to be competitive this year, but now some local GOP leaders worry that Clinton’s good standing may force Dole to give up on the state and spend his time and money elsewhere.
A recent survey by the Field Poll showed that the president’s overall approval rating in the state has climbed from 43 percent in May 1995 to 55 percent today.