Clinton Keeps a Grin As Dole Swings at Chin

Ethics attacks don't boost GOP nominee

In the waning days of Election '96, President Clinton is cheerfully skipping across America, emphasizing small items of good news and family issues. At times he seems as if he's running for chief alderman of the nation, as opposed to US chief executive and leader of the Western world.

Bob Dole, meanwhile, is continuing the needling attacks on Mr. Clinton's character while emphasizing traditional conservative issues such as opposition to flag-burning, as well as his tax-cut program. It's almost like he's still trying to appeal to the GOP base and lock up the Republican nomination.

One character-related issue raised by Mr. Dole in recent weeks - campaign-finance reform - has resulted in an outpouring of media attention to Washington's money flow. Whether the attention will be an electoral plus for Dole, or whether it will ricochet unpredictably and hit all manner of political figures from both parties, remains to be seen.

Clinton has left discussion of alleged foreign money flowing into Democratic coffers to his surrogates. Instead, this week he addressed things that voters are likely to feel more personally as he campaigned relentlessly through battleground states.

In Ohio on Monday, it was education. At a Cleveland rally Clinton took credit for steering a direct student-loan initiative through Congress in 1993. By making it quicker and cheaper to get such loans, "10 million Americans have saved an average of $190 each on their college loans," the president said.

In Florida on Wednesday, it was child-support collections. "We launched an unprecedented crackdown on child support," Clinton told a rally in Daytona Beach. He cited a Department of Health and Human Services report, which holds that child-support payments in the last four years have risen by 50 percent, or about $4 billion, when compared with the previous four-year period.

The one exception to Clinton's feel-your-problem tactics may have proved the rule. On Tuesday, the genial first sheriff was transformed back into commander in chief for a few hours, when he finally announced a firm date for the proposed inclusion of some Eastern European nations in NATO - 1999.

Dole's response on this important issue was that the president didn't want to move fast enough, and he called for a faster inclusion of Poland, Hungary, and other qualifying nations into the North Atlantic alliance.

Americans of Eastern European extraction are an important voting bloc in the upper Midwest. Many experts warn, however, that attempts to extend US guarantees of nuclear protection to Warsaw or Prague are likely to spark fierce debate in Congress.

MEANWHILE, the Dole camp emphasized traditional GOP positions as it swung through the Midwest and then down into the South this week. Their man reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the burning of the flag, for instance. In Macon, Ga., Dole promised that defense spending would not decline any further under his administration.

"As commander in chief, if I'm going to make an error, it's going to be on the side of having enough, and not having too little," Dole said.

In Florida, Dole went on the offensive, charging the Clinton campaign with scaring senior citizens about GOP intentions for Medicare and other popular programs. "There will be no gaps in Medicare and no senior is going to be forced off Medicare in our plan," said Dole.

The GOP nominee also took a swing at Democratic fund-raising efforts, saying that as president "I won't charge you to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom."

It is unclear whether Dole's character-related jibes about Clinton are making headway with the voters. A New York Times poll released early this week found that 63 percent of respondents said Dole was spending more time attacking Clinton than explaining what he would do himself if elected president.

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