Clinton Basks In The Rain -- President Takes Campaign Down I-5 In Hunt For Cash, Votes

YELM, Thurston County - Buoyed by huge crowds, President Clinton took his re-election campaign on the road through Western Washington today.

At Yelm, in rural Thurston County, perhaps 5,000 people jammed a city park to hear the president speak from a podium set up in center field on a baseball diamond. His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, sported a Mariner cap.

"Four years ago, we said we could bring hope back to America. . . . I can tell you after four years this country is in better shape," Clinton told the crowd, reciting statistics he said showed the economy was healthier and crime was down.

Gore thanked people for coming and said the crowd was "larger than we ever expected to see."

Earlier, a crowd estimated at 28,000 jammed a parking lot at the Tacoma Dome in a steady drizzle to hear Clinton joke about the weather and strike the familiar themes of his campaign: economic prosperity and defense of middle-class security against a Republican Congress.

And in Roy in Pierce County, some 400 people - a number equal to the town's population - stood by the road in a muddy field for a chance to shake the president's hand.

Soon, the campaign was on the road again. After a few more stops along the way, Clinton planned to attend a fund-raiser in Portland tonight to add to the estimated $750,000 he collected in Seattle yesterday.

Clinton also announced plans for an unmanned space mission to Mars scheduled to set out in December and to reach the red planet on next Fourth of July.

"We thought we should go visit them before they go blowing up the White House," he quipped, referring to the blockbuster movie "Independence Day."

"I want you to help me build a bridge to the 21st century," Clinton told the Tacoma crowd, which began gathering at 4 a.m. and whose enthusiasm was undampened by a steady fall rain.

As he had yesterday at a rally at Pike Place Market in Seattle, the president even tried to turn the weather to his advantage.

"I know that it's a little wet out here," he said. He recalled that on none of his previous visits had he seen rain, but now "I feel that finally you have finally accepted me as one of your own."

Clinton was joined on the podium by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gary Locke and congressional candidates Jeff Coopersmith of Seattle and Adam Smith of Kent.

Smith had said earlier this year that he wouldn't want Clinton to campaign for him. But that was all forgotten as Clinton urged the crowd to send Democrats to the governor's mansion in Olympia and to Congress.

The president's motorcade - 12 buses, ambulances and police escorts, rolled out of Seattle a little after 8:30 a.m. onto an eerily deserted I-5, where traffic had been blocked. Motorists got out of their cars to watch the caravan roll south toward Tacoma and, later today, to Portland.

In Tacoma, Bridgett Woods, student-body president of Lincoln High School and editor of the school paper, thanked Clinton and Gore for programs she said make it possible for her and others to attend college.

Gore, who followed her to the podium, predicted that, "On Nov. 5, when the ballots are counted nationwide, the great Democratic state of Washington will put the Clinton-Gore team over the top for another four years."

"Four more years!" the crowd chanted as the party boarded buses for a tour of rural Pierce and Thurston counties, where stops in Roy, Tenino and Yelm were expected.

"Rain or shine, I came here to ask if you will join me in building this bridge to the 21st century," Clinton said in his speech at the Market yesterday as water streamed down the bulletproof glass separating him from the crowd.

"Come November, I assure you the sun will shine on the Democrats and all the people in Washington state."

Locke, Rice join Clinton

Flanking Clinton through last night's festivities were King County Executive Gary Locke, the Democrats' nominee for governor, and Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, whom Locke defeated Tuesday.

The president praised both men for running cordial campaigns and urged further party unity.

He trumpeted victories such as easing welfare rolls, increasing the minimum wage and expanding access to health care.

He called for an "army of volunteers" to teach young children how to read and make two years of college as common an accomplishment as a high-school diploma.

Tailoring his message to the Northwest, he painted a picture of a Democratic Congress and White House that would move seamlessly into the next century by increasing trade and monies for research, environmental causes and higher education.

"We are going to keep this country on the cutting edge of technology if you give the American people, yourself and your children a United States Congress that understands that we have to invest in research and the environment," Clinton said.

"Will you help me do that? Will you help me build that bridge to the 21st century?"

It was the president's ninth visit to the region since he took office.

This morning, he was joined by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper Gore, for the leisurely bus ride to Portland.

The president's visit is calculated to firm up his support in the region - polls show him maintaining a comfortable lead over Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole - as a way of ensuring he handily wins the region's bloc of 18 electoral votes.

But the visit had another purpose: money. In the past year, Clinton has filled his and his party's campaign coffers with a dogged determination. Here it was no different.

Campaign cash flows

Last night he helped raise $750,000 for the party at two events, a $5,000-a-plate dinner for the Democratic National Committee and a $125-a-seat "jam session" with a saxophone theme.

A fund-raiser is also planned for Portland tonight.

At the "jam session" fund-raiser at the Paramount Theatre, nearly 3,000 people dined on spit-roasted porkloin with black-bean sauce, drank lattes and listened to a rhythm-and-blues band that featured five saxophonists in honor of Clinton, who plays the sax but refused pleas to pick one up last night.

Clinton moved many in the crowd when he spoke glowingly of Seattle's diversity, comparing it to the numerous nationalities found at the Olympic games.

"We're stronger, not weaker, because of our diversity," he said.

Some people waited hours for Clinton to arrive for his speech at the Pike Place Market.

Long before the speech, business at the Market dropped sharply as security guards with earpieces shut down sidewalks.

Ahmet Yavuz, co-owner of Turkish Delight, looked through a security barrier that kept thousands of Clinton fans from buying his almond baklava.

"It's a nice, once-or-twice-lifetime experience, so we don't worry about it," he said.

As the crowd stood around waiting for Clinton, the rain got colder. People held campaign signs as rain shields.

Sabina Mueller sold T-shirts that read, "Role Hemp." A joke on the GOP ticket, not an endorsement of marijuana, she said.

Speaking of Dole-Kemp, there were few hecklers during Clinton's events yesterday, and few visible Dole supporters. But that doesn't mean the Republicans are writing off Washington to Clinton.

Although the state went for Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Clinton in 1992, George Bush did little campaigning here.

Dole will visit here

Dole will take a more aggressive approach, said his state campaign manger, Kraig Naasz.

Washingtonians should expect a visit from the Republican presidential nominee sometime soon, Naasz said.

Yesterday, Ann and Nancy Wilson of the rock band Heart sang to the crowd awaiting Clinton using a PA system loud enough to disrupt thought. "We're the entertainment 'til Elvis gets here," they said.

When the Wilsons finished, Clinton's staff started playing a recording of "Louie, Louie" over and over and over until it wasn't funny, and people began booing.

But then, as if on cue from a political stagemaster, down from the clouds came a white and blue 747 - Air Force One, carrying Clinton over Elliott Bay.