The US Presidential Elections: Clinton accuses Bush of lying: President's character comes under heavy fire, as candidates dash from one TV appearance to another

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HIS LEAD in the polls dwindling, Bill Clinton has pulled off the gloves with a series of savage attacks on President George Bush's own veracity and character, accusing his rival of lying, and of constantly changing his message to suit whatever audience was closest to hand.

All this week the Arkansas Governor's anger with Mr Bush's alleged distortions of the truth has been visibly growing. Yesterday, at a campaign stop in the swing- state of Ohio, it boiled over. 'He (the President) has put on ads all over America that are lies, he has made up charges about my record. He will say or do anything. He has no core of conviction.'

More striking even than the ferocity of Mr Clinton's language is the fact that he is levelling the very charges of untrustworthiness and slipperiness that the Republicans have been trying - at last it seems with some success - to hang around the Democrat's neck for months. Mr Clinton is aware of the risks: 'If you're totally shameless, like Bush, it's hard for the American people to know what to make of it.'

As far as his advisers are concerned, the counterblast has not come a moment too soon. Whatever the disparities in the polls (a few hours after the sensation of a CNN/Gallup survey showing the two neck-and-neck, a separate Washington Post poll gave Mr Clinton a 10-point advantage), the race is tightening - and on the stump Mr Bush is a man reborn.

However threadbare, the Republican campaign has belatedly come together. As ads lambasting Mr Clinton's record and character swamp the airwaves, Mr Bush has thrown off every inhibition, issuing dire condemnations of another 'tax- and-spend' Democratic administration, painting an apocalyptic vision of the fate that had befallen Arkansas under Mr Clinton's 12-year stewardship, and proclaiming his own coolness under fire.

Campaigning yesterday in the key industrial state of Michigan, where polls show him narrowing his opponent's lead, Mr Bush hammered home his message. 'There's a vast difference in philosophy, experience and - yes - character,' he said. With a humour long missing from his public appearances, Mr Bush derided Mr Clinton's promise of change. 'He says he's the candidate of change; he wants to sock workers for dollars 150bn ( pounds 95bn) of taxes. And that's what will be left in people's pockets - just change.'

Jettisoning an incumbent's dignity, the President now refers to Al Gore, Mr Clinton's running-mate and well-known environmental activist, simply as 'Ozone Man'. He compares the combined policy expertise of the Democratic ticket to that of 'a couple of bonzos'.

Despite his advance Mr Bush is still clearly the underdog. Individual state surveys show Mr Clinton retaining a solid lead in the race for the 270 electoral- college votes required for victory. The latest CNN tracking poll which caused a stir when it showed only a 2-point lead for Mr Clinton on Wednesday, showed a slightly wider 3-point gap yesterday. But other pollsters challenged the methods used by Gallup in the CNN poll and pointed out that an average of six most recent polls gave the Democrat a 8-point lead.

Afternoon in America, page 19