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  •   Gore: Resignation 'Will Never Happen'

    Vice President Al Gore at a town meeting in New Hampshire
    Gore discusses health care at a town meeting in Keane, N.H., with Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). (The Washington Post)
    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, September 19, 1998; Page A11

    NASHUA, N.H., Sept. 18—Acknowledging that President Clinton's behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky controversy has been "indefensible," Vice President Gore said today he nevertheless feels sympathy for a suffering friend and does not want Clinton to resign.

    "As a good friend of the president and first lady, I feel badly for them and their family," Gore told the Concord Monitor in an interview here.

    In the week since independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr released his report to Congress, Gore had refused to answer questions from the growing national press corps traveling with him. But in four sessions with New Hampshire reporters today, he praised Clinton's address to religious leaders the morning the report was released as the "finest speech of his presidency" and maintained Clinton will complete his eight years in office.

    "It will never happen," Gore said, when asked about the prospect of resignation. ". . . He will finish his term with a distinguished record."

    Gore said that he has not read Starr's voluminous report but that staff briefings and news accounts provided enough information for him to decide it's time to move on.

    "The president himself has said the actions described in that report were wrong," he told WMUR-TV. "And he has apologized, and he has asked for forgiveness and said he has moved on to continue doing the job, which is what the American people want."

    On his third trip this year to this first-in-the-nation primary state, Gore tried not to let the Clinton scandal intrude upon his carefully drawn blueprint for victory in 2000, a strategy that entails sprinkling federal dollars across key states, wooing every Democratic county commissioner to be found and squirreling away private time for influential donors.

    While his day-long swing covered all those bases, reality reared its ugly head when he granted interviews to a local media hungry for stories on the White House scandal. He fielded numerous questions, ranging from whether the controversy might tarnish his presidential aspirations to how parents should explain the sex scandal to children.

    Asked what he is doing during this crisis, Gore replied, "At a time of stress and pressure for [Clinton], it's more important than ever I do everything I can to help him be the best possible president."

    He also criticized the House Judiciary Committee for voting on a "partisan basis" to release Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony.

    Perhaps even more significant than the pestering questions was a handful of polls showing mixed reviews for Gore. A new Wall Street Journal poll shows that for the first time this year, Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) leads Gore in a theoretical presidential contest, by 10 percentage points. Last week, the Pew Research Center found that Gore's popularity rating has remained stable at 57 percent, but he is not as popular with several groups of women, including senior citizens, Protestants and those who believe Clinton should be impeached if he encouraged Lewinsky to lie.

    "Gore's going to take some of the heat" of the scandal, said Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan center. Many voters, especially women, "may be less inclined to support continuity in the White House, and he represents continuity." In addition, unlike Clinton, Gore is not benefiting from the so-called gender gap, in which female voters disproportionately favor Democrats.

    Gore aides prefer to discuss a new WMUR poll showing him comfortably ahead of likely primary opponents, including former senator Bill Bradley and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.). "Our guy is still over 40 [percent]," said chief of staff Ron Klain. Since returning from a Hawaiian vacation, Gore has looked relaxed and confident on the stump, serving up a mix of rambunctious partisan rhetoric and policy-oriented "listening sessions" on issues such as public transportation and crumbling schools.

    Today at Keene State College, he heard heart-wrenching tales of families who said they had lost thousands of dollars -- or even loved ones -- because of their health maintenance organizations.

    In some cases, the Lewinsky controversy is working in Gore's favor. One woman in the audience who voted for Clinton said she has become so disgusted with the president she is ready for a Gore presidency -- now. "He's had enough experience as vice president to know his way around," said Agnes Anderson, 54.

    As the Clinton scandal has consumed Washington and fueled speculation over the president's viability, the attention to Gore has grown. He's accompanied by one of the largest press contingents he has had since the 1996 campaign.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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