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Washington fails to catch poll fever as Post sounds for Clinton

With a damningly tepid endorsement from the Washington Post ringing in his ears, President Bill Clinton yesterday began here the final campaigning of his national political career, a coast-to-coast swing that is set to culminate on 5 November with his overwhelming re-election to a second term in the White House.

From this industrial city west of Detroit, the Clinton victory progress will move across the country to California and then back to Florida and up the east coast to New Jersey. He will visit more than a dozen states, including places like Arizona, Florida, and Texas where Democrats normally have no chance - except in a year like 1996. Here in Michigan, usually a key upper-Midwestern battleground state, he enjoys a commanding lead.

Behind him, Mr Clinton left a capital trying to extract a little excitement from the continuing controversy over dubious campaign contributions to the Democratic party, a sidelight to an election season which has been one of the dullest on record but, at a total cost of $1.6bn or more, far and away the most expensive.

The Washington Post's endorsement amounted to a weary opting for the lesser of two evils. "The choice for President this year is pretty bleak," wrote the paper, which had been an enthusiastic Clinton supporter in 1992. On many occasions, "the strongest single argument for either candidate has been that he's not the other." On "too many fundamental issues," Mr Clinton's administration had been "disappointing, deficient and simply tawdry". Mr Dole, however, was if anything worse, with "little or nothing to say to the American public. He gives no affirmative reason why he should be President; his campaign offers several reasons why he should not." Mr Clinton's shortcomings were more evident and inescapable than four years ago, but he might become better at the job, the Post concluded. "On that uncertain basis, we choose Bill Clinton."

As for Mr Dole, after some dark and and scowling performances in recent days he has become more cheerful - a clue perhaps that he has already come to terms with his likely defeat next week.