Clinton Express

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COLUMBUS, Ohio: Taking a page from his successful cross-country bus trip President Clinton roared toward the Democratic National Convention aboard the "21st Century Express" with a re- election pitch for voters: "No U-turn. Stay on the right track." Clinton is on a four-day, five-state campaign before arriving in Chicago to accept the Democratic nomination. The trip, which will take him through West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, is designed to whip up excitement for a convention that promises few surprises. Each day the President will unveil a proposed second-term initiative to show he is a do-something leader. Monday's serving: a proposal to ban the purchase of handguns by people convicted of domestic violence. Tuesday Clinton will focus on literacy; Wednesday on the environment. He will cap off the week in his acceptance speech on Thursday with more new initiatives, including economic proposals to help soften the blow of the welfare bill he signed last week over the objections of many Democrats. The welfare dispute looms as the main threat to a calm convention as Clinton hopes to become the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win re-election. Democratic officials said Sunday they would not discourage speakers from speaking against the welfare bill or the party's support of abortion rights. "We're not afraid of debate," said party chairman Christopher Dodd. One of Clinton's most vocal critics on the welfare issue, Jesse Jackson, said the convention should highlight the unity, not the discord, in the party. "In 1968, when the issue was warfare, the big tent split and we lost," Jackson said. "Now, the issue is welfare, the big tent must not split." Vice President Al Gore already began the effort to ease the fears of liberals about the bill, saying that if Clinton is re-elected, "we will have an opportunity to fix" provisions, such as the ban on benefits to immigrants. The convention opens with prime-time speeches from actor Christopher Reeve, confined to a wheelchair because of an equestrian accident, and gun-control advocate Sarah Brady, whose husband was shot during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. Clinton enters with a slight lead on GOP challenger Bob Dole. According to an ABC News tracking poll released Sunday, among likely voters, Clinton leads Dole by a 47-42 margin, with Ross Perot at 7 percent. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll puts Clinton leads at 12 points -->