CLINTON COMES OUT FIGHTING

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After lying low since the GOP midterm election sweep and enduring criticism even from his Democratic allies,President Clinton made a vigorous comeback speechto the Democratic Leadership Council last night -- with a few defensive barbs. "Join me in the arena, not in the peanut gallery," Clinton told the moderate group he once led, referring to current chairman Oklahoma Rep. Dave McCurdy, who just hours before saddled him with the label "transitional figure." The president then issued a battle cry to Democrats that implied he'd work to reclaim the center for the party's -- and his own -- welfare. After praising the DLC's Monday proposal for an alternative Democratic "contract" with Americans, Clinton vowed to counter GOP budget cut proposals and calls for smaller government with his more moderate approach, including working to build on his Administration's successful efforts on gun control, national service and student loans. "The answer is to reach out to the middle class and say, "We know why you are angry. We know why you are frustrated. We got the message of the election," he said. But is he going to carry water for the DLC?TIME White House correspondent James Carneynotes Clinton "seemed to embrace the DLC agenda, leaving it in loose language, without tying himself to any specific initiative."