By Terry M. Neal
As a growing number of key Democrats in Washington and around the country continue to distance themselves from Clinton, MacKay gave him a heartening endorsement, declaring that he had been a great president and a friend to Florida and that he wouldn't be abandoned in his troubled times.
Quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., MacKay said: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Mr. President, we are not going to be silent. We are going to speak out in support of the work you are doing to improve people's lives."
Clinton, who had just apologized to the crowd for his mistakes and asked for forgiveness, took the lectern and said "that if God lets me be an old man, I will never forget what Buddy MacKay said."
The fund-raiser was the second event Clinton attended in Orlando today. Earlier, he spoke at Hillcrest Elementary School, a multiracial, inner-city school with an innovative literacy program, to tout his administration's education agenda. And, as he does in most speeches on the road, he spoke of the strong economy and declining crime rate that have marked his six years in office. He did not mention the scandal engulfing his presidency.
He urged the 200 or in the crowd to support his legislative priorities that would put 100,000 new teachers in classrooms across the country and announced that the Justice Department had released more than $16 million to 155 law enforcement agencies around the country to work with community groups to create safer schools.
Some in the crowd said the Lewinsky saga paled in comparison with the agenda that Clinton had laid out for the American people.
"He is the president, and he is the leader of the Democratic Party," said Connie Smith, 59, who runs an early education program. She said Clinton's enemies were trying to detract from his accomplishments and "create an atmosphere in which we cannot attend to the business of this country."
As he spoke at the two Orlando events this afternoon, the president was interrupted at least twice by shouts of "We love you, Bill!" and loud applause. About 350 people packed the Marriott Hotel for the fund-raiser, offering up at least $500 each to dine on something called "seafood beggar's purse with lobster sauce," in an effort to raise $300,000 for the state Democratic Party. Party officials estimated a separate $5,000-a-couple fund-raiser at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, south of Miami, tonight would raise an additional $700,000 for state Democrats. There, too, Clinton offered apologies to a sympathetic audience.
After the Orlando event, some attendees said they were satisfied with Clinton's apology. "He asked for forgiveness, but I think his work speaks for itself," said Lashune Harris, 32, a housing authority official from Tampa. "I think we need to move on, and I think people should realize what he's done for this country."
Those who attended the three Florida events were strongly pro-Clinton. But that was not necessarily the case for those who lingered outside the events. Dozens of voters gathered outside the Orlando hotel and some held signs with the most direct and harsh messages: "Impeach the Pervert"; "Shame"; and "Starr for President" were among them. And when he arrived in Coral Cables, a crowd of several hundred shouted and held signs, including "Save Our Daughters" and "Stop Clinton."
Republicans were eager to seize the opportunity to lambaste MacKay and the Democrats for playing host to Clinton. MacKay's campaign has struggled to get off the ground and he has consistently lagged from 15 to 20 points behind Republican nominee Jeb Bush in polls.
State GOP Chairman Tom Slade blasted MacKay's decision to allow Clinton to help him and his party raise money. He said MacKay should have followed the example of Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who pulled out of an event with Clinton, and showed that "morality means more to us than fund-raising." Slade added that association with the president would hurt MacKay and other Democrats come Election Day.
Privately, some Democrats said that MacKay had little to lose considering the polls. Clinton would probably do more good than harm for MacKay, they said, noting that $1 million was serious money.
But a number of key Florida Democrats didn't attend, including Gov. Lawton Chiles, who officials said was on a long-planned international trade trip. Sen. Bob Graham didn't attend, citing Senate business. Even MacKay's running mate, Rick Dantzler -- who attended a fund-raiser with Vice President Gore a month ago -- was nowhere to be seen. A spokesman said Dantzler was in the panhandle for a long-planned campaign swing. Three Florida House Democrats did attend the Orlando fund-raiser, and Clinton singled out Rep. Peter Deutsch for joining him in Miami.
State Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar said inviting Clinton was the right thing to do: "Obviously, we are pleased that the president is aiding our Democratic nominee. Obviously, we wish the situation had not occurred, but we think he's done a good job for the country."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company