No sleep `til Tuesday for Clinton and Dole

Bill Clinton and Bob Dole hurled themselves into a campaign finale of non-stop travel until Tuesday's vote - the President with the goal of securing re-election with an outright majority of the popular vote and helping return a Democratic Congress, his Republican challenger in the hope of stirring moral outrage enough to cause the greatest upset in US political history.

Mr Dole's 96-hour marathon started in the vital Mid-western swing state of Ohio yesterday, with a last-ditch bid to turn the character issue against his opponent. Almost simultaneously, Mr Clinton was due to set out proposals for bipartisan campaign finance reform at a speech here, before heading east to Texas, the third largest electoral prize, which the Democrats hope to capture for the first time in 20 years.

A president should set "the highest standards for everyone, this is not a game", Mr Dole declared in Columbus, flanked by the former Republican presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford. He lashed out at scandals which have buffeted the White House throughout the Clinton administration.

"It's going to be a referendum now ... It smells, It stinks, these people are shameless," he said of the White House and the dubious Democratic fund-raising practices that have been making headlines here for weeks, "Do the American people care about ethical scandals?" Unfortunately for him, despite a smattering of hecklers and protesters outside Mr Clinton's hotel at this resort, the answer alas, was almost certainly, not enough.

In many ways the battle for California, whose 54 electoral votes are a key target of both parties, has been the story of this campaign. Here and all across the West this week, Mr Clinton has been delivering not so much a political speech as a warm, fuzzy sermon, of hope, harmony and happiness. He makes a point of raising such non-partisan and 21st-century topics as supercomputers and advanced neurological research, all in the calculation he can glide above the fray to overwhelming victory on 5 November.

Even yesterday, he was not expected to address specifically the allegations that his party had trawled illegally for hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from East Asian business interests, appealing instead for a bipartisan effort to solve a problem that has bedevilled America even before the 1974 Watergate scandal.

Everywhere, however, the crowds have been fizzing and large - as many as 25,000 at an Arizona stop, and 5,000 happy supporters at a Hallowe'en evening rally in a square on the Oakland waterfront, across the bay from San Francisco. By contrast Dole events here have been held before enthusiastic but selected audiences in Republican strongholds, of little avail in narrowing a Clinton lead of between 15 and 20 points.

Nor is his railing over campaign finance likely to change matters. Despite the latest Republican tirades, Americans generally believe that both parties are at fault. If anything the reaction could be disgust at the entire political process which could mainly serve only to depress turnout next Tuesday.

Mr Clinton is alive to those fears. Increasingly, he is pitching for his party's congressional candidates, appealing everywhere for a high turn-out to return control of Capitol Hill to the Democrats. But he has a personal ambition too, of winning 51 per cent or more of the popular vote in what is the last major election of his career, and banishing the image of the 43 per cent "minority President" elected in 1992.

Despite Mr Dole's fierce language, yesterday again brought no sign of the 11th-hour miracle that alone can save him. A Reuters poll shows Mr Clinton's lead at a smaller but still forbidding eight points; CNN/USA Today however puts the margin at double that. All though show an advance by the Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, who has long hammered away at the campaign finance issue. "I'm not going to give up, we're going to to win," he insisted. "The last time I fought around the clock for my country was in Italy," declared Bob Dole the war hero of 1945, "It was worth it then and it's worth it now."

Bob Dole profile, page 21

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