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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Birthday Kickstarts Clinton Run


FRUITLAND, Tennessee -- U.S. President Bill Clinton celebrated his 50th birthday Monday hammering nails in the heat of rural west Tennessee, as he and Vice President Al Gore helped rebuild an African-American church burned in a series of suspected racist arsons.

It was a stark contrast to his "official" celebration the night before -- a celebrity-studded variety show at New York's Radio City Music Hall that combined home movies, period music, political comedy and serious fundraising, bringing in $12 million for Clinton's re-election campaign.

Clinton also appeared in a nationally televised interview on the CBS-TV show "60 Minutes" Sunday night, defending his wife against harsh Republican attacks but otherwise declining to engage in character-bashing he said was practiced by the GOP in its convention.

With supporters looking on in 89 TV-linked fund-raisers around the country, the variety show used testimonials, rarely seen family pictures and home movies to retrace Clinton's life story in a way that left the birthday boy a bit thick-voiced and teary.

The variety show, two other New York events and the 85 related fund-raisers brought out more than 20,000 faithful Democrats. The cast of entertainers was also on a generous scale: Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Carly Simon and Jon Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, and Olympic champions Carl Lewis and Kerri Strug.

In the CBS interview, Clinton drew sharp differences with the Republican ticket over the parties' competing tax-cut proposals, insisting that the 15 percent, across-the-board tax cut proposed by Republican nominee Bob Dole is "playing havoc with our nation's future."

Asked for his reaction to implicit attacks on first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton from the Republican convention podium, Clinton conceded that his wife has been "a controversial character," but said that at the age of 50 he was most grateful for his years with her and Chelsea. "I know her better than anybody does," Clinton said of his wife, "and I'm real proud of her."

Also defending the young White House staffers Dole ridiculed as an out-of-touch "elite," Clinton said he wants the election to "be about ideas, not insults." But he bitterly charged Republicans who question his character with practicing "the politics of destruction."

"I have nothing bad to say about Bob Dole's character," Clinton said. But he made clear that he had plenty bad to say about Dole's record and positions. He continued his recent sharp criticism of Dole's tax-cut plan, saying it would "blow a hole in the deficit a mile wide," or else result in sharp cuts in programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

He also suggested Dole was making an expedient election-year conversion to tax cuts, saying that over a long career in Congress "Senator Dole has voted for a lot more taxes than I ever did."

Clinton and Gore were joined in in their work on Fruitland's Salem Baptist Church by the first lady and Gore's wife, Tipper, who shares the same birthday with Clinton, and turned 48 on Monday.

?Air Force authorities launched an investigation Sunday into why a U.S. military C-130 cargo plane providing support for Clinton crashed into a mountainside near Jackson, Wyoming.

The plane had been assigned to bring equipment from Jackson, where the president had been vacationing, to New York City. But shortly after take-off Saturday night, the plane slammed into the side of Sheep Mountain.

Authorities said they believed that nine people were on board the plane: a crew of eight plus one U.S. Secret Service agent. There was no sign that anyone on the plane had survived.

Clinton, who had returned to Washington before the crash, said he was "very sad and shocked" about the accident. ()