Bush slips back in polls, accuses Clinton of 'scam' President presses character issue in Mich., Conn.

November 02, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

STRATFORD, Conn. -- President Bush raced across the country yesterday, trying to stir last-minute doubts about Bill Clinton as new polls suggested that the president was losing ground to his challenger.

The president said he believed in "my heart of hearts" that he will win tomorrow. But he sounded tired and dispirited after he was told the latest CNN/USA Today daily tracking poll showed his support receding after a surge last week put him in a virtual tie with Mr. Clinton in the same poll.

The new survey tracked the Arkansas governor climbing 1 percentage point to 43 percent, Mr. Bush dropping 3 points to 36 percent, and independent Ross Perot remaining at 15 percent.

Bush campaign manager Robert M. Teeter said that the president could count on states with only about 130 to 140 electoral votes and that another 60 electoral votes were leaning the president's way. But he needs at least 270 electoral votes to win.

Of the hotly contested battleground states, the Bush camp was claiming only Ohio.

"We didn't invent the name 'Slick Willie,' it came from Arkansas," Mr. Bush told a boisterous rally of several thousand supporters at the Palace arena in Auburn Hills, Mich. "It is difficult for him to level with the American people."

As Bush aides passed out copies of an affidavit supporting a recently published report that representatives of Mr. Clinton had removed his ROTC records from the University of Arkansas in the mid-1970s, the president cited conflicting explanations of Mr. Clinton's military draft record as a prime evidence that the Democrat can't be trusted to give a straight story.

"When Governor Clinton first ran for office, his friends used special connections to seal his ROTC files and destroy all others," Mr. Bush charged. "He's got to level with the American people on this kind of thing."

Mr. Bush and other critics claim Mr. Clinton avoided being drafted during the Vietnam War by obtaining a student deferment under the pretense that he planned to join the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Arkansas Law School. Mr. Clinton says he gave up his deferment after he decided to return to Cambridge for a second year as a Rhodes scholar. The draft ended shortly after.

"We simply cannot let the American people fall for this scam," the president said at an airport rally in Connecticut last night.

In the final feverish hours of what he calls an "ugly" campaign, the president said he welcomed the chance to turn the race into a contest on "character and trust."

"He has waffled and ducked and bobbed and weaved, and you can't do that as president. . . . You cannot have this pattern of deception and deceit."

Mr. Bush said he had heard Mr. Clinton already was planning his inaugural parade.

"Hold the phone," the president demanded. "You're not going to have an inauguration parade. . . . One day he's an underdog, and the next day, he's a saxophone player at the White House. He's even waffling on that."

With just one day to go before the election, Mr. Bush bounded from La Crosse, Wis., to suburban Detroit to this town near Bridgeport. Late last night he headed south to Newark, N.J., for a rally this morning.

Today promises to be even longer, with stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Louisiana before the president reaches a final rally in his adopted home city of Houston tonight.

His aides say Mr. Bush is working to secure victories in these voter-rich states, where they say his support has been growing in the final days of the campaign.

But the mood in the Bush campaign is much less optimistic than it was a few days ago.

The shift in tone was most obvious in the president. Last week he seemed to be enjoying himself, but yesterday he had reached the point he said his mother calls "T and I -- tired and irritable."

In a CNN interview yesterday morning, Mr. Bush lashed out against Iran-contra prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh, accusing him of conducting a "witch hunt."

The president also questioned the timing of a new indictment Mr. Walsh filed Friday against former Defense Secretary Casper W. Weinberger.

The indictment was accompanied by the release of notes indicating that Mr. Bush knew more than what he has said about the Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages deal with Iran.

"It does seem a little weird" that this information would be released "the Friday before an election," Mr. Bush said.

When asked whether he would fire Mr. Walsh after the election, Mr. Bush demurred.

"I'm not his strongest admirer," the president said of the special prosecutor named six years ago by President Ronald Reagan to investigate the Iran-contra affair. "I think it's been a big witch hunt out there, when you see a decent man like Cap Weinberger going through all kinds of hell."

Mr. Bush was reflecting his frustration at having to deal with a new spate of publicity on the old, troublesome issue with time running out on his bid to win re-election.

It's not clear that Mr. Bush has been hurt by the latest Iran-contra stories, which broke little new ground. The content of Mr. Weinberger's notes had been reported earlier. But the notes were not formally released to reporters until Friday.

But the new stories gave Mr. Clinton a chance to challenge Mr. Bush on the "trust" question at a time when the president was beginning to gain on him. Mr. Teeter said the controversy meant "a lost day" for the Bush campaign Friday.

"I think people are tired of this," Mr. Bush said of the Iran-contra issue.

When told that polls show most people don't believe that he was "out of the loop"' on the arms-for-hostages deal, Mr. Bush said, "Too bad, I've told the full truth."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.