Qualls could've lived without Clinton visit
Sunday, September 20, 1998

The 800-pound gorilla is gone, but not forgotten.

President Clinton came to Cincinnati this week to exercise his one remaining political function that seems not to have been diminished by Monica Lewinsky, videotaped grand jury testimony, or his unusual affection for certain tobacco products.

That is his ability to walk into a room almost anywhere in America and cause wealthy people whose interests sometimes intersect with the federal government to whip out checkbooks and start writing numbers that include long trails of zeroes.

You might have gotten the impression, given the news coverage of the president's visit, that he came here because his tummy was rumblin' and he had a big ole hankerin' for a bowl of that Gold Star Tex-Mex Chili.

You would be wrong.

The president came to Cincinnati Thursday to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Big piles of it.

Mr. Clinton's visit to Cincinnati, to attend a fund-raiser at the Amberley Village home of lawyer Stan Chesley, came smack in the middle of one of the most hotly contested congressional races in the country, one that has attracted the attention of most of the national news media and even the news media overseas -- the race between Democrat challenger Roxanne Qualls and Republican incumbent Steve Chabot in Ohio's 1st Congressional District.

Rest assured, this presidential visit was not Ms. Qualls' idea. She needed this like she needs a poke in the eye with a stick.

Yes, Mr. Clinton lent a hand in talking her into running against Mr. Chabot; and, yes, her campaign platform is almost a mirror image of the Clinton legislative agenda, but he has become an 800-pound gorilla on the laps of Democratic congressional candidates all over the country. Plopping down so they can't get up.

A month ago, when it was learned that Mr. Clinton would come to town, Ms. Qualls seemed hesitant about joining in the fun at the Chesley house, but, in the end, she tightened her jaw and went to the airport to greet the president. She even rode in the limo; and was front and center when the presidential motorcade made its "spontaneous" stop in Over-the-Rhine, where the president greeted a very friendly crowd and sampled the local cuisine at Gold Star.

The Over-the-Rhine stop didn't serve any public policy purpose that we could see, but it was a sterling example of the true genius of the White House spinmeisters.

Without it, the lead video on the local TV and the networks would have been the only video the TV people had up to that point -- pictures of hundreds of angry citizens standing in the rain on Ridge Road demanding the president's resignation.

But with the stop in Over-the-Rhine -- a neighborhood happy to see a president, particularly a Democratic one -- the lead video suddenly became the president working a rope line of happy citizens, shaking hands and patting kids on the head.

We had died and gone to Photo-Op Heaven. We had happy pictures. But none of this did Ms. Qualls a bit of good. She is left with the task of spending the next six weeks trying to persuade Democratic voters to go to the polls and trying to push her issues through a solid wall of Monica.

In the end, the association with a president who is being urged to resign and is on the verge of impeachment may not be fatal for Ms. Qualls' chances. After all, she is a known quantity to voters in these parts; they know she had a life B.C. -- Before Clinton.

But Thursday, when the president was loaded back onto Air Force One, she and other local Democrats could breathe a sigh of relief and wave as the big bird flew off to Boston for more fund-raising.

Have a nice trip. Come back soon. Call first.

Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at hwilkinson@enquirer.com