Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole took a double punch from polls in the key states of Michigan and Ohio on Wednesday as he renewed an attack on President Clinton's ethics.
In a campaign message broadcast on CNN, Dole returned to his theme of last week, alleging that the Clinton administration was riddled with individuals who had committed criminal action and improprieties.
"How can a president lead Americans when he is the source of our cynicism? . . . We have a duty to talk about this administration's public ethics because it is a matter of public trust," Dole said.
"Some people have asked the question, 'Do public ethics really matter?' Today, I am asking a different question: Could anything possibly matter more?" Dole said.
Undermining Dole's message somewhat, a former vice chairman of the Republican nominee's campaign finance committee agreed Wednesday to pay $1 million in fines for violating federal campaign laws.
Former Dole fund-raiser Simon Fireman, 71, pleaded guilty and was also sentenced to one year of probation, with six months to be served under home detention.
Two polls provided somber news for Dole from key states. Reuters surveys said Clinton was leading Dole among likely voters by 14.5 percentage points in Michigan and by 11.6 points in Ohio, the latter being especially ominous for Dole since no Republican has become president without winning that state.
Both candidates were campaigning Wednesday in Florida, a usually Republican bastion where Clinton narrowly leads this year, thanks to his support among women and elderly retirees.
Clinton, staying presidential, started the day with a round of golf before addressing a rally in Daytona Beach, where he highlighted a government report showing that child-support payments have risen 50 percent during the last four years.
"We're going to keep going until we raise child support more and more and more. We're going to move hundreds of thousands of people off welfare by making sure that the parents do what they ought to do -- take responsibility for their children and their future," he told a cheering crowd.
Dole, trying to keep his spirits up, has been telling supporters to ignore the polls. He started his day at a sparsely attended rally in Macon, Ga., then flew to Panama City, Fla., in the normally Republican Florida Panhandle.
"This is a state we must win; this is a state we should win. I'm a conservative; he's a liberal. Don't let him fool you," Dole said.
But some Republicans are deserting Dole to concentrate on retaining control of both houses of Congress, which the party won two years ago for the first time in 40 years.
Republicans are pouring money into a handful of close Senate races and dozens of tight House races, trying to turn back a gathering Democratic tide.
Democrats need a net gain of three seats to split the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, and give the tie-breaking vote in deadlocks to Vice President Al Gore, as Senate president, assuming Clinton is re-elected.
The Democrats need 18 additional seats to take control of the 435-member House of Representatives.
The state polls offered some good news for Republicans, showing that support for Democratic congressional candidates lagged far behind support for Clinton in the two states.