Clinton struggles to regain lead in N.H.


NASHUA, N.H. -- Struggling to halt his steep slide in New Hampshire, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas said yesterday that he'd "fight like hell" in the final week of the Democratic primary contest here.

But if he's devised a new plan for erasing voter doubts about his character, it was not immediately evident. Mr. Clinton resumed campaigning after conferring with his political strategists in Little Rock for most of the weekend.

Allegations of marital infidelity and questions about whether he avoided the draft in the late 1960s have damaged his standing among likely voters. His 13-point lead in pre-primary polls has evaporated over the past few days, and the number of voters who view him unfavorably has increased significantly.

Mr. Clinton's first stop was a suburban Nashua neighborhood, where he held a living-room chat about the economy with local voters. Then, he stepped out onto the snowy front walk and, with his wife beside him, read a prepared statement designed to kick off the final eight days of his campaign here.

"Let's face it," he said. "For too much of the last couple of weeks, this election has been about me, or rather, some false and twisted tabloid version of me."

Mr. Clinton acknowledged that, after months of campaigning, he had failed to convey a clear idea of himself to the voters.

"They need a chance to get to know me in the last eight days in a way they never have before, and I'm going to try to give it to them."

To acquaint voters with his resume, the Clinton campaign is running biographical commercials over television and radio. Yesterday, Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers flew to Manchester, N.H., to speak on Mr. Clinton's behalf.

Mr. Clinton has been thrown on the defensive by published reports about his apparent attempts to avoid the military draft in the 1960s. His campaign brought representatives of Arkansas veterans organizations to New Hampshire this week to try to rebut the charges.

As he takes his case to voters here, Mr. Clinton is attempting to reassert his claim that he is the most electable Democrat against PresidentBush. He says the attacks on his character are similar to the negative campaign tactics employed by Mr. Bush and his media consultant, Roger Ailes, against Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis in 1988.

According to Mr. Clinton, as soon as he became the clear front-runner in New Hampshire, "the Republican attack machine went into action."

Pressed to say whether the Bush White House is behind the attacks, Mr. Clinton told reporters: "Look at who was involved in 'A Current Affair' and those things, and you'll find out. I mean, you all want me to do all the research. You do plenty of research on me. Just be an equal opportunity researcher."

Standing at the rear of the throng of reporters, Mr. Clinton's campaign consultant, James Carville, shouted out that Mr. Ailes, the Bush media adviser, was involved with "Current Affair." The syndicated TV program recently broadcast an interview with Gennifer Flowers, who claims to have had an affair with Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Carville said later that Mr. Ailes has business ties to the Fox television network, which owns "Current Affair." Mr. Ailes was not immediately available for comment.

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