President Clinton undertook his campaign for re-election in 1996 under the most favorable of circum- stances . If not an imposing person- ality in the manner of a Roosevelt, he was a natural campaigner, whom many felt had an infectious charm . He presided over a growing econom- ic recovery . He had positioned him- self on the political spectrum in a way that made him appear a man of the center leaning left . His Republi- can opponent, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, Republican leader in the upper house, was a formidable leg- islator but less successful as a presi- dential candidate .

Clinton, promising to “build a bridge to the 21st century,” easily defeated Dole in a three-party race, 49 .2 percent to 40 .7 percent, with 8 .4 percent to Ross Perot . He thus became the second American pres- ident to win two consecutive elec- tions with less than a majority of the total vote . (The other was Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and 1916 .) The Re- publicans, however, retained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate .

Clinton never stated much of a domestic program for his second term . The highlight of its first year was an accord with Congress de-

signed to balance the budget, fur- ther reinforcing the president’s standing as a fiscally responsible moderate liberal .

In 1998, American politics en- tered a period of turmoil with the revelation that Clinton had car- ried on an affair inside the White House with a young intern . At first the president denied this, telling the American people: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman .” The president had faced similar charges in the past . In a sexual ha- rassment lawsuit filed by a woman he had known in Arkansas, Clinton denied under oath the White House affair . This fit most Americans’ defi- nition of perjury . In October 1998, the House of Representatives began impeachment hearings, focusing on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice .

Whatever the merits of that ap- proach, a majority of Americans seemed to view the matter as a pri- vate one to be sorted out with one’s family, a significant shift in public attitude . Also significantly, Hillary Clinton continued to support her husband . It surely helped also that the times were good . In the midst of the House impeachment debate, the president announced the largest budget surplus in 30 years . Public opinion polls showed Clinton’s ap- proval rating to be the highest of his six years in office .

That November, the Republicans took further losses in the midterm congressional elections, cutting their majorities to razor-thin mar-




gins . House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned, and the party attempted to develop a less strident image . Nev- ertheless, in December the House voted the first impeachment resolu- tion against a sitting president since Andrew Johnson (1868), thereby handing the case to the Senate for a trial .

Clinton’s impeachment trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States, held little sus- pense . In the midst of it, the presi- dent delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress . He never testified, and no serious ob- server expected that any of the sev- eral charges against him would win the two-thirds vote required for re- moval from office . In the end, none got even a simple majority . On Feb- ruary 12, 1999, Clinton was acquit- ted of all charges .

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