Most of the 5,500 sailors aboard the USS Roosevelt didn't even come below decks to hear Mr. Clinton speak. And of those who did, many did not bother to applaud. Those interviewed overwhelmingly expressed skepticism about Mr. Clinton, based on the gay issue.
On the beach in Coronado, Mr. Clinton was shaking hands on the beach before his run when he spotted a Marine Corps colonel in jogging clothes with a T-shirt reading: "Bill. No gays in my Marine Corps."
When he came to the officer, the president abruptly told aides, "We gotta go," and he wheeled around, leaving dozens of hands unshaken.
"The timing of the gays in the military thing wasn't controlled by us," a senior administration official said yesterday. "But it wasn't a great way to say hello to these guys, I'll grant you that."
Adding to the military's misgivings were reports about how White House staff members had shown open disrespect, even contempt, for the military.
At least one of them turned out to have at least a grain of truth: Shortly after Mr. Clinton took office, Lt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a highly decorated Vietnam War hero and a division commander in the Persian Gulf war, said hello to a woman in the West Wing, who curtly told him that she didn't speak to people in uniform.
This story circulated in the military community and finally showed up in news media accounts in mid-March.
The president and other White House officials initially denied that the story was true, later shifting their explanation to say that perhaps the woman wasn't on the Clinton administration staff. But some officials were upset by the episode.
"It was too late for us to find out who did it, but we wouldn't have been shy about handling it," said Anne Edwards, a White House aide who comes from a military family. "I would have probably run over the person in my truck."