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BILL CLINTON

He feels Democrats' pain

NEW YORK -- Bill Clinton has a message for Democrats inconsolable after President Bush's reelection: Buck up. It's not that bad. You need to improve your image.

"This election presents a great opportunity for President Bush and a great opportunity for Democrats, and the two are not necessarily in conflict," Clinton said yesterday in his first public remarks since Democratic Senator John F. Kerry's defeat Tuesday.

Clinton, the last two-term Democratic president, said the party needs to rework its image and it would be "a mistake for our party to sit around and . . . whine about this and that or the other thing."

Weeks after major heart surgery, Clinton joined Kerry at a campaign appearance in Philadelphia last week and made appearances on the Democrat's behalf in several states, including Florida, New Mexico, and Arkansas.

In his speech yesterday to the Urban Land Institute, Clinton attributed Kerry's loss to the Democrats' failure to counter how Republicans portrayed them to rural and small-town voters.

"If we let people believe that our party doesn't believe in faith and family, doesn't believe in work and freedom, that's our fault," he said.

Democrats "need a clear national message and they have to do this without one big advantage the Republicans have, which is they won't have a theological message that basically paints the other guy as evil."

Clinton gave Bush and the Republicans credit for the election victory. "The Republicans had a clear message, a good messenger, great organization, and great strategy," he said. "The Republicans did a better job of turning out those who were already registered who hadn't voted" as well as bringing out their base.

Clinton said Bush should use his second four years to move the United States toward an economy less dependent on foreign oil, a move that would shift the balance of power in the Middle East.

Clinton also said a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians would take enormous steam out of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism worldwide.

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