Package finds grass-roots support // Even some in GOP say the `plan is fair'
Adam Nagourney;Jonathan T. Lovitt
ONTARIO, Calif. _ After town hall meetings, speeches to Congress, chats with
children and tours of computer plants, the best measure of President Clinton's
success at selling his economic plan may come down to people like Pat Schaffer.
Schaffer, 44, a prison worker, is a Republican who, like many people in this
middle-class town 40 miles east of Los Angeles, voted for Ross Perot.
And Schaffer's reaction to Clinton's economic plan strongly suggests the
sophisticated sales job launched by the White House is scoring some important
Schaffer says she is prepared to pay more taxes because "the deficit is that bad."
And while she says Clinton needs to push for more spending cuts, in the end, "I
think his plan is fair.
"My mother is a widow of a serviceman and she hasn't paid taxes in 25 years,"
she says. "And even my mother wouldn't mind paying higher taxes if it got the
Republicans have yet to muster a strong counterargument to the Clinton plan.
And there is plenty of anti-tax sentiment still to be harvested from voters
convinced Clinton hasn't made enough spending reductions.
"Before he bites into my (Social Security), he should try to cut spending," says
Joy Schrock, 79, a retired teacher.
But talks with voters here, conducted in the midst of two days of California visits
by both Clinton and Vice President Gore, find people largely embracing Clinton's
The reaction in this city is noteworthy because Ontario, with its growing
population of independent-minded, middle-class voters, is the kind of community
closely watched by politicians and academics.
Clinton came here last May to do one of his first campaign town hall meetings.
Gore arrived two weeks ago, helping the administration kick off its campaign to
sell the plan.
And USA TODAY visited this community regularly during the campaign to
measure voter reaction to the candidates.
This once solidly Republican community gave Ross Perot 22% of its votes in
November, and 41% to Clinton. Those Perot voters are the kind of people
Clinton needs to persuade Congress to pass his plan.
It is striking that for all the high expectations evoked by Clinton in the campaign,
people are prepared to give him leeway. They seem ready to judge him, not on
the fight over homosexuals in the military or his search for an attorney general,
but on his success at dealing with the economy.
Voters here repeatedly identify the deficit as the single most important economic
problem, a shift from a few months ago when pollsters said the deficit was too
ethereal to be a defining issue.
The voters also say they are prepared to pay more taxes to deal with it.
Several note acidly the speed with which Clinton has broken some campaign
promises, particularly on taxes.
But others seem ready to forgive him, either because they accept his explanation
that things have changed or because they view it as politics as usual. "The deficit
could go on forever if we don't start chipping away at it now," says Frank
Tribulski, 68, a retired salesman. "He's probably breaking some campaign
promises, but that's to be expected. They all do that."
The interviews also have turned up signs of how effective Clinton's selling
strategy has been. First, his attempt to frame his economic package as a shared
call for sacrifice shows signs of taking hold. Betty Mazurek, a retired worker
who voted for George Bush in 1988 and Clinton in 1992, praises Clinton's pledge
to increase taxes on Social Security for the wealthy.
"Everybody is going to have to cooperate if we're going to get anything done,"
she says, likening this era to the sacrifices her generation made during World
Secondly, even Republicans have offered little challenge to the administration's
insistent argument that the nation's problems are the fault of 12 years of
"It's going to take a good six years to address what our party has done to the
country," says John McCord, 55, a real estate broker, paralegal and
"dyed-in-the-wool Republican" who voted for Perot.
Finally, voters like McCord accept another critical Clinton argument: That he has
to abandon his promise of a middle-class tax cut because the economy has turned
out to be worse than he thought.
"I really don't think he knew how bad this deficit was because he had not been
privy to this information until he got into office," McCord says.
Still, Clinton faces skepticism that he has done as much as he can in terms of
cutting spending. In recent days, Clinton has started talking about more spending
cuts. "He ought to do more cutting and less spending," says Lawrence Yokee, 36,
a mechanic who voted for Perot. "I'm working two jobs just to stay above water."
Yet there is general acceptance of a tax hike here.
"It doesn't bother me the fact that the gas tax is going up," says Madeline
Pedersen, a baby sitter who voted for Bush. "I think everybody has to do
GRAPHIC,b/w,Marcy E. Mullins, USA TODAY (Map,California)