Voters who think the issue of Bill Clinton's draft-dodging has been laid to rest underestimate Republican expertise in the art of negative campaigning. With President Bush stagnating some 15 points below Governor Clinton in the opinion polls, the GOP's most tempting and perhaps only chance to close the gap is by tearing at the Democratic candidate's character. And the best opening, at least since Gennifer Flowers, has been provided not so much by Mr. Clinton's success in avoiding military service during the Vietnam War but by his often misleading explanations of his conduct.
According to a recent poll, one in five voters doubts Mr. Clinton's ability to serve as commander-in-chief -- a matter World War II hero Bush is tying to his rival's lack and "loathing" of military service. While the president took the high road rather than attack Mr. Clinton's draft record before the National Guard convention this week, his surrogates cannot leave the subject alone. Their attitude recalls Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey's warning the GOP would peel Mr. Clinton "like a boiled peanut" on this issue during the general election.
While the poll cited above also reported that voters satisfied by Mr. Clinton's explanations outnumber those who are not by 2-1, that still leaves one-third dissatisfied. The GOP may also anticipate added tidbits on the Clinton record from an estranged college friend, Cliff Jackson, who first told the Los Angeles Times about a Clinton uncle who tried to arrange a Navy Reserve assignment to delay induction. Mr. Jackson says more is coming.