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Republicans mount assault on Clinton

REPUBLICAN PARTY officials, desperate that next week's party convention in Houston should save President Bush's stumbling re-election campaign, yesterday intensified attacks on the Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton. The assault, led by the party chairman Richard Bond, came amid a flurry of new opinion polls that showed Mr Clinton maintaining his lead over the President nationally and in Texas, Mr Bush's declared home and a state mathematically vital for victory in November.

The national poll, conducted by the Boston Globe, showed Mr Clinton and his running mate, Al Gore, scoring 50 per cent compared with 29 per cent for Mr Bush and Vice-President Dan Quayle. Conversely, a clear majority said it would trust Mr Bush over Mr Clinton in a foreign policy crisis. A Houston Chronicle poll yesterday showed Mr Clinton with 43 per cent support in Texas compared with 29 for Mr Bush. A win in Texas - as in California, which is also showing strongly for Mr Clinton - is virtually indispensable for Mr Bush.

Opening four days of pre-convention hearings in Houston, Mr Bond attempted to stoke fears about 'what a horror-show a Clinton presidency might be like. If you can bear it, think about a Clinton cabinet'. Erring far into the realms of political fantasy, he suggested that Mr Clinton might appoint the former governor of California and environmental radical, Jerry Brown, as an interior secretary who would seek to build 'a biosphere in every backyard'.

First drafts of the Republican platform itself attempt to paint Mr Clinton as a high-taxation candidate, focusing on his pledge to increase taxes for the very rich. Apparently disregarding how Mr Bush backed away from his 'no new taxes' pledge in the 1988 campaign, the draft says: 'The choice is clear: between a president who vetoes tax increases and one who proposes them.'

At the same time, Mr Bush is under direct pressure from conservative Republicans to use the convention to offer a radical programme for economic recovery, based on dramatic tax reductions. Signatories of a bluntly worded memorandum to the President late last week included his own Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, and several Republican members of Congress. The memo said voters were 'tired of the old cliches' from the administration about promoting economic growth, and wanted clear leadership towards full recovery.

On a positive note for Mr Bush, a request by a Congressional committee that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate charges of wrong-doing by the administration, in aiding Saddam Hussein before the Gulf war, was rejected yesterday. William Barr, the US Attorney-General, said the allegations were too 'vague and general', but added that his staff would continue to look into claims that the administration turned a blind eye to evidence that President Saddam was using US loans illegally to bolster his army just before the invasion of Kuwait.