But the Bush campaign, reeling from one misfortune to the next, succeeded only in embarrassing itself yesterday. The White House was forced to repudiate a newsletter, faxed to news organisations at the weekend, which accused Mr Clinton of sins ranging from marital infidelity and draft-dodging to overeating.
The newsletter, written by Mary Matalin, political director of the Bush campaign, took the form of questions and answers about the Clinton campaign. It was headlined: 'Snivelling Hypocritical Democrats: Stand up and be Counted. On Second Thoughts, Shut up and Sit Down.'
One question asked: 'Which campaign had to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on private investigations to fend off bimbo eruptions?' In another edition last week, Ms Matalin denied that the Republicans were campaigning negatively. As proof, she said that the Bush team had yet to refer to Mr Clinton as a 'philandering, pot-smoking draft-dodger'.
Ms Matalin made a public apology yesterday. White House officials said President Bush had been 'very upset' by the tone and contents of the newsletters, which contradicted his previous promises to run a clean campaign. 'The President is determined to keep this campaign out of the sleaze business,' said Judy Smith, a White House spokeswoman.
But senior Bush campaign officials had earlier defended Ms Matalin's work as a justified response to Mr Clinton's attacks on Mr Bush's record in government. It appears that the President is not only failing to communicate with the nation but sending out confusing signals to his own advisers.
The President has been under pressure to authorise a scorched- earth policy to destroy the Democratic candidate - whatever the cost in yet deeper public cynicism towards politicians and political institutions. The political logic is clear. President Bush has found little new to offer the electorate; Mr Clinton is riding high in the polls but is evidently vulnerable to personal assaults.
Other advisers have argued that such tactics could be self-destructive, in a year in which the nation is tired of political antics and the electorate wants the campaign to be about their problems, not the candidates' problems.
At a rain-soaked appearance in Illinois at the weekend, Mr Bush strongly implied that he was letting the dogs off the leash. 'I'm going to go after that opponent. He's been on my case for six months. We are going to define it and we are going to win the election.' In US political speak, to 'define' an opponent is to attack his character - to make him appear out of the cultural, social and political mainstream. Ms Matalin could reasonably argue that this is what she was trying to do.
But Mr Bush, mindful of his prestige as commander-in-chief and head of state, is apparently reluctant to be associated directly with the kind of raw assaults on character which were so successful against Michael Dukakis in 1988. So far, the jeering and sneering at the Democratic candidate have been left to surrogates, such as Republican members of Congress and private groups not officially linked with the Bush campaign.
WATERBURY, Connecticut - Two newspapers in Connecticut, the north-east state where President Bush grew up and which his father respresented as senator, urged him not to seek re-election for the good of America, Reuter reports. The editorials, in the Waterbury Republican-American and New Britain Herald, said Mr Bush had run out of ideas on how to deal with the economy and that his record in office could not be considered a success.
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