WASHINGTON: How's he doin'? President Clinton spent the weekend raising millions of campaign dollars and riding high on a couple of hot-button issues -- the murder of Matthew Shepard and the marathon Mideast peace talks
in Maryland. The former is to the '98 election what black church burnings were in 1996 -- the kind of hate crime that Clinton can really get his teeth into; a battle he doesn't have to fudge. The latter, even his opponents agree, has given the President some much-needed stature. Indeed, they're both such winners that Clinton is doing his best to link them: "If you were heartbroken when that young man was killed, if you were elated by the fact that these two people -- Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat -- were able to reach across this great divide... that means you know that we can't define our future by putting people down," he told a Bel Air fund-raiser Saturday.
Which is a nice sentiment and a lovely piece of politicking. What a shame, then, that Clinton is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the midterm races. With the estimated turnout heading for a historic low, even the Republican leadership concedes that November 3 is going to be won or lost on state-specific issues. "This is clearly an 'all politics is local' kind of election," said GOP campaign boss Senator Mitch McConnell. "I never did believe it was a referendum on Bill Clinton," added Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.). Linder and other party luminaries expect a 10-to-15-seat Republican gain in the House next Tuesday. Anything less than that, and Clinton will be able to claim he's bridged another divide -- whether or not his eleventh-hour stump-speech schtick had anything to do with it.