The US Presidential Elections: Campaign Diary

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IT HAS come down to this. A warm-up speaker for George Bush claimed at the weekend that Bill Clinton was less well endowed than the President in the masculine department. He claimed as his source an unnamed secret service agent who had had occasion to follow both men 'into the bathroom'.

Journalists following the Clinton campaign immediately approached his press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, and requested a 'photo-opportunity' with the Governor to disprove this damaging allegation. As they pointed out, the Bush speaker was the 'second source' on the story. Gennifer Flowers had made a similar observation earlier in the year.

Ms Myers, favourite to succeed Marlin Fitzwater and become the first White House spokeswoman if Clinton wins, politely and firmly denied the photo request. She said that the Bush supporter's remarks were 'below the belt'. No counter claims yet from the Perot camp.

THE tightening of the polls has brought a late surge of bets on Mr Bush with Ladbrokes, the British bookies. The company took dollars 40,000 ( pounds 24,400) of wagers on the President at the weekend, narrowing his odds from 3-1 to 5-2. Mr Clinton is still the overwhelming favourite to win.

But Mr Clinton's odds have lengthened slightly from 1-6 to 1-4. Paul Austin, Ladbrokes' spokesman, says that since his company started taking bets on US campaigns no candidate has gone on from such narrow odds, one week out, to lose the election. But he reminds readers that 10 days before the British general election, Ladbrokes were offering 1-5 odds on a Neil Kinnock victory.

IS Mr Bush on to something when he says the US media is ganging up against him? The New Yorker magazine and the Doonesbury political cartoon strip have turned themselves into a kind of anti- Bush tag team. This week's New Yorker, the fourth to be edited by the British journalist Tina Brown, has a long, thorough, investigative piece exploring President Bush's connections with both the Iran- Contra and Iraqgate scandals.

Mr Bush has insisted he was 'out of the loop' on both. Yesterday's Doonesbury strip had a fictional journalist asking Mr Bush about the allegations at a fictional press conference. The fictional George Bush replies: 'Look, the real question is 'Hey, who do you trust?'. Oops, wrong loop.' Doonesbury is drawn by Garry Trudeau roughly 10 days in advance: he was given an early draft of the New Yorker article.

'Garry has never liked George Bush,' a friend told the Washington Post. 'And Tina has always loved publicity. This was a match made in heaven.'

ONLY THE selected few among the journalists on the campaign trail with President Bush get to travel aboard Air Force One. The rest of us are crammed on board an ageing charter jet that, on take-off, only ever seems to make it off the runway at the last possible moment.

But we have more fun. It's First Class - lobster, asparagus and limitless booze - without the stuffiness. Take-off, when being seated is optional and safety belts are defintely ignored, means game time. For those at the rear the challenge is to roll an orange up the length of the aisle all the way to the cockpit when the jet's ascent is at its steepest.

That done, the pilot announces the next round of 'Seato', an airborne lottery where the foolish and tipsy write their seat number on a five-dollar-bill and toss it in a pillow case handed round by the stewardess. It's winner-takes-all for whoever's note is drawn out of the bag. On Saturday night it was the radio guy from NBC - a dollars 350 windfall. The Independent plays all right, but has yet to win.