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Clinton Stumps for Beyer as Va. Race Grows Hotter

By Spencer S. Hsu and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 5, 1997; Page B09

President Clinton traveled across the Potomac last night to help raise $600,000 for the campaign of Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr., part of a crucial final push by both parties in the race to be Virginia's next governor.

Clinton's appearance at a Crystal City fund-raiser launched a hectic week of campaigning by both Beyer and Republican James S. Gilmore III.

Polls say the two men are virtually tied as they enter the last month of the race.

Tomorrow night, Beyer and Gilmore have their first televised debate, moderated by former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D). The two will debate again Oct. 15 and are discussing another possible encounter six days after that.

This week, Gilmore will stump downstate Virginia with 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, Texas Gov. George W. Bush Jr., and House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John R. Kasich (Ohio), completing a long roster of Republican presidential aspirants who have aided his campaign.

Meanwhile, both men have begun running negative TV attacks, with Gilmore painting Beyer as soft on crime.

In his ads. Beyer argued that Gilmore is beholden to religious conservative interest groups.

Last night, Clinton not only helped Beyer raise money but trained a spotlight on his themes of education, environmental protection and abortion rights. Clinton stumped for his national academic testing plan for fourth- and eighth-graders, which Beyer supports, and backed Beyer's opposition to using taxpayer funds for school vouchers that would allow parents to pay for private school tuition.

"It matters who the next governor is," Clinton told a partisan crowd of more than 500 guests at a Crystal City hotel.

He urged Virginia Democrats to elect Beyer and send a message "to the whole country" for next year, when 36 governorships are at stake.

"In Virginia, which has prided itself from the time of Thomas Jefferson in leading the country in education, surely you ought to send the message to the country that Virginia will vote for national standard of excellence for all our children," Clinton told the $1,000-a-plate audience, which stood the duration of his 20-minute speech.

"We are in a pitched battle for the future of public education in Virginia," Beyer said. "My opponent will take public school money and send it to private and religious schools. . . . Mr. President, please veto any attempt to take public school money and send it to private and religious academies."

Clinton shared the podium with Beyer, his wife, Megan, and Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.).

Beyer introduced his ticketmates, L.F. Payne Jr., running for lieutenant governor, and attorney general candidate William D. Dolan III. He also singled out for praise Wilder, who was not present and who has yet to endorse a candidate.

Gilmore, who nearly crossed paths with Beyer while campaigning in Richmond earlier in the day, shrugged off the Clinton fund-raiser, which featured a president who has not carried Virginia in two tries.

"He believes in Al Gore. He believes in Bill Clinton," Gilmore said of his opponent.

"Of course, they're raising money for him. Thankfully, we have supporters ourselves."

National leaders of both parties say they're watching the Virginia race to get an early idea of how voters will react to tax and education issues in next year's congressional elections.

Virtually every GOP contender for the 2000 presidential nomination has campaigned with Gilmore, while only one has touched down in New Jersey to help with Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's campaign -- former presidential candidate Malcolm S. Forbes Jr.

Democrats say they're particularly interested in seeing how voters view Beyer's attacks on proposals to give parents taxpayer-financed vouchers for private-school tuition.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington newsletter, said the Virginia race will test whether moderate, upper-middle class, swing voters like Gilmore's tax-cut proposals enough to overcome their nervousness about the Republican social agenda, including education policies.

"I expect this to be tight down to the wire," Rothenberg said of the race.

Many Virginia voters will get their first extended look at the candidates in tomorrow's debate.

Wilder -- Virginia's most recent Democratic governor and the nation's first elected black governor -- has invited both candidates to appear on his weekly Richmond-based radio call-in show. "The debate could be make-or-break for one of the candidates," predicted Wilder.

In Northern Virginia, public television station WNVT-53, cable News Channel 8 and radio station WAGE-AM (1200) in Leesburg will broadcast the debate live, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event also will be carried on a delayed basis by C-SPAN2, some local cable and public stations, and it has an Internet site (www.vcu.edu/debate).

Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company


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