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Clinton Seen As Able to Resist His Party's Interest Groups

THE success of a Clinton presidency, should the Arkansas governor win tomorrow, will ride on how well he can resist the interest groups in his own party.

This is the blunt assessment of many Democrats, including some in the Clinton campaign.

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Bill Clinton is running as a "different kind of Democrat" - a candidate who is not in the pocket of constituencies such as labor unions, teachers, or the civil rights establishment.

The question these Democrats ask is whether Mr. Clinton will be strong enough and forceful enough with his own set of early initiatives to carry off his own more centrist agenda.

"That will be the test of his presidency," says a campaign aide. If Mr. Clinton has the fortitude to follow through with his own "different" agenda, the aide says, "and I think he does, he could have a tremendously successful presidency.

"If he caves, it will be a disaster."

Democratic Gov. George Sinner of North Dakota agrees that resisting traditional Democratic power centers will be Clinton's biggest test.

"I think he's one of the few who can do it," he says. Clinton's pragmatic approach could steer his administration "toward people and away from ideology."

"I think he has the courage to break traditions," says Mr. Sinner.

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Another Democratic governor who has campaigned with Clinton, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, thinks that Clinton has already broken the hold of Democratic interest groups.

`HE'S been strong enough to win without them," says Mr. Nelson. "If you're strong enough to run without them, then you're strong enough to hold them off once you're elected."

Clinton set a pattern early in his campaign.

In the summer of 1991, defeat of fast-track authority for the president to negotiate free-trade agreements was top priority for organized labor. But Clinton favored fast-track authority.

"That was fairly decisive and courageous," says William Galston, a University of Maryland political scientist who worked for the Mondale campaign.

Since then, however, much of his rhetoric has stressed more-protectionist themes.

Other different-Democrat kinds of stands: He proposes some kind of earnings-test for Social Security benefits, and he proposes to limit welfare recipients to two years on relief.

One of his most controversial moves as governor was to impose testing on teachers in 1983, arousing much anger from a profession that is a major support to Democratic candidates.

Democrats close to Clinton expect that he would pack the first few months and perhaps the first year of his presidency with an intensive push for his top priorities.

His initiatives are most likely to include his program for building the infrastructure and stimulating the economy, health-care reform, expanding access to education, and welfare reform.

The biggest challenge will come on health care, forecasts Dr. Galston: "A pitched war on many fronts" involving "huge groups with a lot to lose."

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