MORRISTOWN, N.J. -- Bob Dole's presidential campaign took a sharply negative turn yesterday, when he opened an assault on President Clinton's morals, his links to Whitewater and even his fitness to be president, mimicking a supporter's dismissal of Clinton as a "bozo."
"His word's no good," the Republican nominee said of Clinton at a rally in Lyndhurst, N.J.
"My word is good, and I'll keep my promises to the American people," he added, disputing Clinton's contention that the nation could not afford Dole's promise of a 15 percent income-tax cut.
In the mocking tone that has seeped into his stump speech in the past two days, Dole then ridiculed the Democratic argument that to pay for such a tax cut, he would have to cut deeply into Medicare. Referring to the president, Dole asked the crowd:
"Who is this guy? What does he know about it? What does he know about benefits? What does he know about Medicare?"
As Dole was shaking hands with the crowd on the way out, one man shouted, "Please get Bozo out of the White House."
Dole, who had asserted in his debate with Clinton on Sunday night that presidents should be treated with respect, shouted back: "Bozo's on his way out!"
The Clinton campaign described Dole's assault as the expected result of his frustration with a campaign that is failing to gain traction, despite Dole's solid debate performance Sunday night.
"I'm not surprised the campaign has adopted harsher, more personally negative tactics," said Ann Lewis, Clinton's deputy campaign manager. "I am surprised that [Dole] is more personally associated with them. But this is not the first time we've been called Bozo."
George Bush applied the same label to both Clinton and Al Gore in 1992, in the waning days of a race in which Bush was eventually ousted from the White House.
"My dog, Millie, knows more about foreign affairs than those two bozos," Bush told a rally then.
Dole's campaign spokesman, Nelson Warfield, who described the "bozo" remark as a "light-hearted" comment, deflected suggestions that there had been a tactical decision to "go negative."
But Dole's newly acrimonious stance coincides with other developments.
A sharply worded Dole ad campaign has been launched on Christian radio stations, warning of a "moral crisis" in the Clinton White House. As evidence, the ad contends that the president supports "ninth-month abortions," a "liberal agenda," "gays in the military" and "condoms for kids."
"America suffers from a moral crisis," the narrator says. "But the problem isn't in your house. The problem is in the White House. Bill Clinton's White House."
The Dole campaign also ventured yesterday into Whitewater, when Michael Chertoff, the Republican counsel for the Senate committee investigating the matter, warmed up the crowd at the Lyndhurst event.
"Remember the president who promised to have the most ethical administration in American history?" he asked. "Well, how many of that administration are in jail now, how many of that administration had to resign in disgrace?"
There have been several resignations from the Clinton administration, but only one former official, Webster Hubbell, is in prison, and Hubbell's conviction was for offenses unrelated to his government service.
Dole has so far avoided any personal reference to the jumble of shady business dealings linked to Clinton that is known as Whitewater, as he pointedly noted during his debate with Clinton Sunday night. Chertoff's appearance yesterday had been cleared, however, through the Dole campaign.
By midday yesterday, heavy rains from Tropical Storm Josephine had cut short Dole's two-day, 10-bus caravan through New Jersey, which had been drawing small, though loyal, audiences even before the weather turned gloomy. The rain delay seemed a merciful break for a candidate who acknowledged yesterday during a radio interview that he, of all people, could not afford to go negative because of his image as sometimes ill-tempered.
"We found in our surveys, if you go on the attack with Clinton, that the first people who jump overboard are women," Dole said yesterday morning on Don Imus' syndicated radio show. "They want us to talk about the issues."
But Dole also told Imus that he regretted letting Clinton off easy on "character issues" in Sunday's debate and would turn tougher in their next debate on Oct. 16.
"I mean, if the president knows so much, why doesn't he know who hired Craig Livingstone?" Dole said, referring to the White House official who took the blame for obtaining hundreds of FBI files. "We could have asked that question."
"A lot of people are skeptical after Clinton promised a tax cut and gave you the biggest tax cut in the world," he said to reporters, seeking to explain why his tax-cut message hasn't caught fire. "There's a lot of skepticism out there. [But] I'm not Clinton."
Pub Date: 10/09/96