President Bush denied charges Friday he is indulging in red-baiting, saying his questions about Bill Clinton's 1969-70 anti-Vietnam War efforts were based on "American principles" and he would not back off the issue.
Clinton responded that Bush was simply pursuing a strategy "cooked up" by the far-right, and the Democratic nominee's aides said their polls show Bush's strategy is backfiring."I'm standing with American principles and it is wrong to demonstrate against your country when your country's at war," Bush said to the cheers of law enforcement officials in Cincinnati at which he received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police.
"I'm not going to back away, not one single bit," he said.
He turned aside Democratic criticism - including some from the party's 1988 nominee, Michael Dukakis - that he was employing the anti-communist fear tactics used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s to win re-election.
"Let the liberal elite try to do their number today, trying to call me Joe McCarthy," he told the Ohio audience.
In a related matter Friday, the FBI it found no evidence of tampering with Clinton's passport file relating to his travels in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The FBI had opened an investigation after the State Department reportedly discovered someone had apparently ripped out several pages of Clinton's passport.
Several news organizations had applied under the Freedom of Information law to see the file to check whether Clinton had ever considered applying for the citizenship of another country to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.
Bush first mentioned Clinton's anti-war activities - and a trip the Democratic presidential nominee took during the same period to Moscow - in a televised interview Wednesday.
He has subsequently backed off his criticism of the Moscow trip, which Clinton described a routine student visit. But Bush continued to question how Clinton could have demonstrated against the war while at Oxford University.
Clinton, speaking to reporters in Kansas City, claimed Bush's motivations in raising the issue were purely political.
"It is now obvious from the press reports that far from speaking from his heart, he is speaking from a prescribed political strategy cooked up in the White House by (Californian Republican Rep.) Robert Dornan and other extreme right-wingers," Clinton said.
The Washington Post reported Friday that four U.S. congressmen, including the ultra-conservative Dornan, met with Bush Monday to urge him to hit hard at Clinton's activities during the Vietnam War.
The Los Angeles Times reported that another of the congressmen was Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., a highly decorated Navy combat pilot during the Vietnam War.
Cunningham reportedly told Bush he could "kill Clinton, politically" by hammering him on his efforts to avoid the draft as well as the the Moscow visit.
But Clinton spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers claimed Bush's attacks were not having that effect, telling reporters: "Nothing we've seen shows it's doing anything but continuing to erode (Bush's) support. This is not helping him."
Indeed, the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup daily tracking poll ahead of the Nov. 3 election showed Clinton leading Bush 49 to 34 percent with independent Ross Perot at 10 percent.
With the first of three debates scheduled for Sunday in St. Louis, all three candidates were preparing for the clash.
Arkansas Gov. Clinton withdrew to a hotel "training camp" in Kansas City, to get away from the press of state business in Little Rock. Bush began the day at the White House with no public appointments, before his campaign trip to Ohio.
Perot continued to keep a low profile, but his campaign was scheduled Friday evening to re-broadcast a 30-minute television advertisement detailing the problems facing America.