As President Clinton campaigned through California on a 24-hour visit in which he raised $4.5 million for the Democratic Party, White House officials scrambled to deal with questions about why they will not release the president's full medical records.
At a campaign stop in Ohio on Thursday, Bob Dole's chief spokesman hinted darkly that president was trying to conceal a medical "mystery." And Dole pointedly declared in Kentucky that he has released his medical records and demanded to know why Clinton has not done the same.
At campaign stops over the last several weeks, Republican officials have repeatedly raised the issue of Clinton's health--often hinting without substantiation that Clinton suffers from some embarrassing medical condition.
Clinton's day was supposed to be a relatively easy one--two speeches on the congenial subject of education, followed by a $4- million fund-raiser at the Bel-Air estate of Ron Burkle, chairman of Yucaipa Cos., the holding company that controls the Ralphs supermarket chain.
Tom Hanks was master of ceremonies, Steven Spielberg and record producer David Geffen were guests and performers included Barbra Streisand, poet Maya Angelou and singing acts the Neville Brothers and the Eagles.
Ticket prices for the gala started at $2,500, which bought access to the concert only. A $5,000 contribution added a cocktail reception with Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. For $12,500, donors got dinner with the Clintons and better concert seats.
The night before, Clinton had raised $500,000 for Democratic candidates at a dinner in the Silicon Valley filled with executives of the high-technology industry.
But in a case study of how a campaign day can spin out of control, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry instead found himself starting the day at a briefing in Fresno responding to persistent questioning about Clinton's past and present health status.
In the incongruous setting of a Fresno primary school classroom, McCurry was peppered with questions about why the White House refuses to divulge detailed records of Clinton's medical examinations.
McCurry said that releasing details of some tests would violate the president's privacy and "dignity."
Pressed to explain what medical exams and procedures might be embarrassing to the president, McCurry replied, "Just think for a minute."
The medical records question has dogged Clinton since the 1992 campaign. Then, as now, Clinton has authorized the release of only partial information about his medical condition. White House spokesmen and his physician have issued statements that he enjoys overall good health but have not provided detailed data from his annual medical exams.
Dole has been more forthcoming, distributing results of a battery of medical tests and making his personal physician available for interviews.
In Georgetown, Ky., Thursday, where he spoke at Georgetown College, Dole taunted Clinton, "Let's have your health records, Mr. President. I gave them all of mine. I'm in great shape. My cholesterol's lower, my blood pressure is lower--but I'm not going to make health an issue in this campaign."
Other Republicans have been less subtle. At a Dole rally in Pittsburgh this past weekend, a local conservative radio talk show host, in a question to Dole, suggested, without citing any evidence, that Clinton was trying to hide past drug use. Dole let the suggestion pass without comment.
That remark is consistent with an increasingly sharp tone taken by Dole's campaign spokesmen. Thursday, for example, Ken Khachigian, Dole's California campaign manager, issued a statement saying that Clinton had "violated the public trust, lied to America about tax cuts, and to this day, continues to affront our standards of character and integrity."
Clinton had put endangered species ahead of working people and contributed to rising rates of drug use among teenagers, Khachigian said.
"He sounded a little unhinged to me," McCurry answered.
Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart added: "We expected that the campaign might turn negative and nasty quite quickly. They've obviously concluded that the only way they can win this election is to take the low road of personal character attack."
Times staff writers Gebe Martinez and Duke Helfand contributed to this story.