Republican candidates fight shy of flaky Dole

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The Independent Online
Less than a week before Tuesday's election, Republican Congressional candidates are cutting loose from their apparently doomed White House contender, Bob Dole, in an attempt to preserve their own seats and, they hope, their party's slender majorities in the House and Senate.

In more than 50 districts, the Republican National Congressional Committee has started to air $4m (pounds 2.6m) of advertisements that mention neither President Bill Clinton nor Mr Dole by name, but urge voters not to give "liberal" interests a "blank cheque" for the 105th Congress, as happened in the first two years of the Clinton administration, when the Democrats controlled both the White House and Capitol Hill.

Despite his own party's readiness to write him off, yesterday did bring a few faint signs the gap might be narrowing. Two polls suggested the Clinton lead was 12 per cent, still enough for a big victory, but less than 20-per-margin he has enjoyed lately. The Reform Party candidate, Ross Perot, inched to 8 per cent or more, almost double his showing of the past few weeks.

Though he brushes off entreaties from the Dole camp to withdraw, the Texan billionaire this week levelled a withering fire on the President in his public appearances, saying the Republican was "the better man," and that a second Clinton term would see Whitewater turn into a "Watergate Two." Mr Perot says the President already ought to have done "the responsible thing" by resigning.

Mr Clinton dismissed the "character issue" with barely a ruffle. "Tell the truth, tell the truth," students shouted at Ohio State University, Columbus, as he set out education proposals. "I bet they won't be doing that a week from today," Mr Clinton retorted.

Yesterday Mr Dole was again courting votes in Orange County, California, the most Republican county in the US, but where a poll shows him winning by 20,000 votes instead of the 300,000 margin needed to offset traditionally Democratic San Francisco and Los Angeles. Then, after almost four days in pursuit of California's 54 electoral-college votes, Mr Dole was due in Colorado, another state where Mr Clinton is comfortably ahead, before briefly returning to base in Washington for the night. But less than 24 hours beforehand, today's schedule was still undecided.

Trailing almost everywhere, Mr Dole can do little more than race to states where he seems to be narrowing the deficit, in the hope that his physical presence can convert the improvement into a win. But the tactics are a metaphor for his entire campaign, in which he has jumped from issue to issue, blown by headlines of the day.

The latest are Democratic gyrations on campaign finance, which began with revelations that the party had accepted large sums from Asian donors, and charges that John Huang, a former Commerce Department official turned Democratic fundraiser, used his post to solicit money.

The dispute took a new twist this week when the Democratic party refused to file its October campaign spending report, instantly raising suspicions of a cover-up. But Senator Christopher Dodd, the Democratic chairman, "described the incident as a "tempest in a teapot," and said the report would after all be submitted on schedule.