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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sobered Clinton Sees Rebound in Fortunes


WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton rebounded from a chaotic first two years in office, marked by disasters personal and political, to regain the confidence of voters and position himself for re-election.

Grayer and sobered by four years of swiftly changing fortunes, the 50-year-old Democratic "baby-boomer" nonetheless displayed an optimism and energy that infected crowds along the campaign trail.

He set the tone for his re-election drive at this year's State of the Union speech, portraying himself as the leader of the mainstream political center and proclaiming: "The era of big government is over."

As the year progressed he co-opted many Republican issues -- welfare reform and crime-fighting for example -- to run as a conservative Democrat.

Calling himself the candidate for the 21st century, Clinton would say at his rallies: "Are we going to build a bridge to the future or a bridge to the past?" It managed to remind voters indirectly of Dole's advanced age.

As recently as late 1994, Clinton seemed destined to be a mediocre one-term president as Republicans rode a wave of voter discontent to take control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Clinton was reduced to defending himself publicly against accusations that he had become "irrelevant."

But then Republicans handed him a free ride back from the political wilderness, pushing national spending cuts many people viewed as too harsh for the poor and elderly and too rough on education and environmental protections.

If Clinton had trouble making people believe he had core convictions, the Republicans gave him something to be against. Since he had never really stopped campaigning after his 1992 victory, he was off and running against "the extremists" in control of Congress.

His message, poll-tested and adapted to an America largely tired of ever-growing bureaucratic tentacles, was that the federal government should be reduced but was too important to cede all control to state and local governments.

"Are we going to tell the American people, 'you're on your own,' or are we going to say that, yes, it does take a village to raise and educate our children and build our country and go forward together?" he would say.

Clinton was mired in controversy as soon as the elation of his January 1993 inauguration faded.

There was the firing of White House travel office workers, the issue of his opening the military to homosexuals, and accusations about the Clintons' Whitewater investment from the 1980s in Arkansas.

The after-shocks still ripple through the White House. And independent counsel Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation is still going strong, guaranteeing pressures from that quarter will continue in a second Clinton term.

A plan for a radical revamping of the U.S. health care system, led by Clinton's wife, Hillary, fed into suspicions that Clinton was at heart a big-government liberal and became the biggest political disaster of his first term.

Many Americans say they do not entirely trust Clinton, but the question marks were not enough to keep him from piling up a large lead over Dole in the months before the election.

Clinton was also blessed by plenty of good luck in his campaign, in the form of a prosperous U.S. economy. Abroad, Clinton was unafraid to project U.S. military might and has worked on developing personal relationships with world leaders. ()