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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dole's Punches Fail to Dent Clinton

SAN DIEGO, California -- Republican Bob Dole, trailing badly with time running short, opened the final debate of the 1996 presidential campaign with a broad assault on President Clinton's ethics and integrity, but seemed to hesitate in pressing the attack as the 90-minute encounter continued.

Getting scarcely a rise out of Clinton, the Republican challenger said the actions of the president and many of his subordinates had deepened public cynicism and debased the office of the president.

"There's no doubt about it that many American people have lost their faith in government,'' Dole said in response to a schoolteacher's question about the values public figures impart to the nation's children.

Dole suggested repeatedly that Clinton had abandoned promises or adopted stands merely as election-year ploys to win votes. "When I'm president,'' he insisted, "I will keep my word. My word is my bond.''

It was a carefully prepared set of attacks that Dole has been rehearsing all week, and it drew an equally well-rehearsed response. While Clinton barely deigned to respond to Dole's attacks, he twice responded with a line that expressed more sorrow than anger at Dole's charges.

"I don't want to respond in kind to all these things,'' Clinton said halfway through the debate, sounding almost indulgent of his older opponent. "I could. I could answer a lot of these things tit for tat. But I hope we can talk about what we're going to do in the future. No attack ever created a job or educated a child or helped a family make ends meet. No insult ever cleaned up a toxic waste dump or helped an elderly person. Now for four years, that's what I've worked on. If you'll give me four years more, I'll work on it some more.''

But as the debate went on, Dole's fire grew less sustained -- deterred, perhaps, by Clinton's unwillingness to engage in an exchange on ethics and morality.

Early on in the debate, a female college student asked Dole a question that many voters appear to have in their minds -- whether, at age 73, he could relate to the concerns of young people. In one of his defter responses, he said he thought his age gave him an advantage.

"You know, wisdom comes from age, experience and intelligence. And if you have some of each -- and I have some age, some experience and some intelligence -- that adds up to wisdom,'' he said to gentle laughter from the audience.

Clinton replied that he didn't think his opponent was too old to be president. "It's the age of his ideas that I question,'' Clinton said.

?Three snap polls showed a large majority saw Clinton as the winner. In an ABC poll, 56 percent of respondents said the president had won while 27 percent said Dole had won. A CBS poll gave the victory to Clinton 55 percent to Dole's 25 percent and CNN had the president winning 59 to his opponent's 29 percent.

Some voters said Dole was too harsh. "What are people going to remember about this? Dole said a lot of bad things about Clinton and Clinton didn't break a sweat," said Buddy Wilson, owner of a sports bar in Daytona Beach, Florida. ()