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How A Murderer And Rapist Became The Bush Campaign's Most Valuable Player

November 11, 1990|By ROGER SIMON | ROGER SIMON,Roger Simon is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Sun. This excerpt is from his new book, "Road Show," published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright 1990 by Roger Simon. Reprinted with permission.

But Atwater didn't learn about that white guy until after the election. He had sources in Massachusetts, he had Pinkerton, he had the Nerd Patrol -- 35 excellent guys tapping away at those computer keyboards! -- but he didn't learn about a white example until after the election.

Gosh. Darn.

MICHAEL DUKAKIS WAS STILL not worried. He felt he had already handled the issue. After Horton's arrest in Maryland in April 1987, Dukakis had halted further furloughs until the policy could be studied. And after outrage from both the public and the state legislature convinced him he could not really veto a bill ending furloughs, he signed it into law in April 1988. And that, he thought, was that.

Besides, the polls after the Democratic convention were very good. Oddly, the same polls that pleased Dukakis also pleased Atwater.

"I was pleased when we came out of the Democratic conventio17 points down," Atwater said. "Being 17 points down was a victory. Without the attacks we would have been 27 points down. And I was pleased with their convention for being so ungracious and unwise in their personal attacks. It gave us all the room we wanted to be personal back."

After the Republican Convention in August, the polls were no longer so good for Dukakis. The negative campaign was hurting him. So Dukakis struck back. Speaking in Massachusetts on Aug. 30, he said: "Here's a man who supported the sale of arms to a terrorist nation, one of the worst foreign policy disasters of this decade; was part of an administration that was doing business with drug-running Panamanian dictators, funneled aid to the contras through convicted drug dealers; went to the Philippines in the early '80s and commended Marcos and his commitment to democracy -- and he's talking about judgment?"

Afterward, Dukakis explained why he was now giving as good ahe had gotten. "I came to a reluctant conclusion that if it continues, you have to respond," he said. "I think that's unfortunate, but I think it's very clear what kind of campaign the Republicans are running, and I think we're going to have to deal with it."

By Labor Day, the polls showed Dukakis and Bush running evenNow it was time for the Republicans to go nuclear.

Just after Labor Day, the National Security Political ActioCommittee (also known as "Americans for Bush") called a news conference to launch a 30-second commercial featuring the face of Willie Horton.

Titled "Weekend Passes," it went like this:

VISUAL: Side-by-side photographs of Bush and Dukakis.

SOUND: "Bush and Dukakis on crime."

VISUAL: Picture of Bush.

SOUND: "Bush supports the death penalty for first-degremurderers.

VISUAL: Picture of Dukakis.

SOUND: "Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, hallowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison."

VISUAL: Police photograph of a glowering Willie Horton.

SOUND: "One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in robbery, stabbing him 14 times."

VISUAL: Picture of Willie Horton towering over a police officewho has him in custody.

SOUND: "Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekenpasses from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend."

VISUAL: The words "Kidnapping," "Stabbing" and "Rapingappear on the screen.

VISUAL: Photo of Dukakis.

SOUND: "Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime."

"When we're through, people are going to think that Willie Hortois Michael Dukakis' nephew," Floyd Brown, a political consultant for the group, told reporters.

The group notified James Baker, the Bush campaign chairman, that the commercial would run for 28 days. It ran only on cable TV, but that didn't matter. The network news shows picked it up and used it as an example of how negative the campaign had become.

On the 25th day of the ad's run, and after considerable publicriticism over the use of Horton's picture, Baker announced his official disapproval of the ad and sent a letter asking that the commercial be stopped.

Floyd Brown responded: "If they were really interested istopping this, do you think they would have waited that long to send us a letter?"

The Bush campaign disavowed the ad and said it was made ban independent group and the campaign had nothing to

do with it. But as the New York Times would point out in a front-page story, the ad was filmed by a former employee of Roger Ailes and the group claimed to have the tacit support of Bush officials. "Officially the [Bush] campaign has to disavow themselves from me," Elizabeth I. Fediay, the group's founder, said. "Unofficially, I hear that they're thrilled about what we're doing."

The Dukakis staff was pleased with the New York Times story, ocourse. But it couldn't help noticing that on the front page the Times had run a freeze frame from the commercial. It was the picture of Horton towering over his guard, with the words: "Horton Received 10 Weekend Passes From Prison."

So even when Dukakis won, he lost.

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