Bush celebrates, Clinton attacks Democrat calls foes 'reckless with the truth'


JACKSON, Miss. -- Gov. Bill Clinton sought to turn the trust issue against President Bush yesterday, accusing him of abusing power and running a campaign that flagrantly distorts the truth.

"The Bush campaign has been the most reckless with the truth of any campaign that I've seen in modern American history," Mr. Clinton said in one of his harshest attacks on the president. "And they are so plainly desperate to hold onto power that they're prepared to say just about anything."

Later, Mr. Clinton, who was campaigning in Texas and other Southern states, lost his patience with Ross Perot, expressing resentment at some of Mr. Perot's comments and challenging his boast that he is using his own money in the campaign.

"I'm getting a little bit leery of that whole business, [that] he's just spending his own money, poor Ross Perot with his 3 billion bucks," Mr. Clinton said last night on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Mr. Clinton's comments last night contrasted with those he made about Mr. Perot earlier in the day while campaigning in Texas and other Southern states.

He had not only refrained from criticizing the Texan, he said he would want to "have his involvement in some fashion" in his administration. A spokeswoman for Mr. Clinton later said his comments did not represent a job offer.

In his sharp attack on the Texas billionaire last night, Mr. Clinton rebutted Mr. Perot's comments during the presidential debate that his experience as governor of Arkansas was irrelevant.

"I've worked for 12 years for $35,000 a year because I believe in public service, and he made a lot of money by dealing with the government," Mr. Clinton said in response to a question by Mr. King about whether he "had a problem" with Mr. Perot's spending $60 million of his own money on his campaign.

Noting that Mr. Perot made much of his fortune selling computer services to the Medicare and Medicaid programs run by the government, Mr. Clinton said, "He talks about how he paid for his own campaign and the taxpayers are paying for mine -- the taxpayers are paying for his, too. He made most of his money as a Medicaid contractor."

Mr. Clinton began the day with one of his harshest attacks on President Bush, saying, "The Bush campaign has been the most reckless with the truth of any campaign that I've seen in modern American history, and they are so plainly desperate to hold onto power that they're prepared to say just about anything."

As at least one poll indicated that the race was tightening, Mr. Clinton continued to campaign in states Mr. Bush carried by wide margins four years ago, addressing rallies in Houston, Jackson, Miss., and Louisville, Ky.

Beginning today in Ohio, he is expected to spend most of his remaining time in the Midwest, New Jersey and other industrial states where the election is likely to be decided. Although hoping for victories in the South, he is not spending much money on television advertising in Texas, where polls indicate the race is even.

Meanwhile, in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, the Democrat's lead among likely voters nationwide this week had shrunk to 2 percentage points. An ABC poll put the Clinton lead at 7 points.

Asked about the CNN poll while in Jackson, Mr. Clinton said he was not alarmed by the results.

"There are three others that say seven to 11" percentage points, the governor said. He predicted even more fluctuations, saying, "I think it's going to go like an accordion now."

Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Mr. Clinton is still leading in the states needed to win in the Electoral College. "The states still look good. The outcome of the states hasn't changed much," she said.

At a rally in Houston, where Mr. Clinton's aides announced his endorsement by 100 gas and oil industry executives, Texas Gov. Ann Richards said Mr. Bush would lose his home state.

"You can stick a fork in George Bush because he's done," she said.

Mr. Clinton began his day with a sometimes contentious hour on NBC's "Today" show . Taking calls in the morning from people around the country, he was asked critical questions about his draft record and the affair Gennifer Flowers claimed she had with him.

He turned the question about Ms. Flowers' allegation -- which he has always denied -- into a lengthy attack on the credibility of the president and his campaign.

Mr. Bush has been attacking Mr. Clinton unremittingly on issues of character and trust. And in recent days Mr. Clinton has accused the Republicans of outright fabrications, usually in radio advertisements aimed at selected states. One Bush ad accuses Mr. Clinton of favoring an end to oil drilling off Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, which Mr. Clinton said is not true.

"I have been in public life a long time, and until this campaign no one had ever questioned my truthfulness, my honor, my integrity," he said, charging that he has been subjected "to a withering attack by the Bush campaign in all kinds of ways."

Donning glasses, he read from newspaper editorials that he said criticized the veracity of Mr. Bush's charges against him.

On the "Today" show, he said, "I think we ought to look at the whole record and what all of us have done in our private lives and evaluate this issue of truthfulness. It's amazing. I've answered more questions about my private life than Mr. Bush has about his public life. And he has gotten away with the most flagrant distortions of truth in this campaign that I have ever seen.

Challenged about his draft record by a woman who said her husband served in Vietnam, he said he "did not dodge the draft in the sense of violating the law."

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