Bush fights to minimize damage in Georgia

March 02, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Sounding an upbeat theme of "jobs, family and world peace," President Bush completed a hectic, two-day spin through this primary state yesterday, but some advisers feared it wasn't enough.

Nearly 10,000 invited guests and passers-by cheered the president at a rally along the river front here, giving Mr. Bush a buoyant send-off.

But Bush aides say they fear that the harshly aggressive campaign being waged by Republican challenger Patrick J. Buchanan has hit its mark.

In this southern state, where GOP primary vote totals can be skewed by crossover Democrats -- whom Mr. Buchanan has been courting assiduously -- the challenger is expected to fare even better in voting tomorrow than in New Hampshire, where he won 37 percent.

The White House says it is now assuming an anti-Bush vote of about one-third in almost every state as Americans vent their frustration at the recession. In Georgia, where Mr. Buchanan has been campaigning hard in rural towns and Atlanta suburbs and spending heavily on television attack ads, at least one senior Bush official has predicted that the challenger could get more than 45 percent.

"It's obvious we're going to be fighting Buchanan for the next several weeks," said White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner. "He'll be in all the races. We'll win them all."

In fighting back, the Bush campaign has aired its own attack ads, used surrogates to urge the challenger to pull out of the race and showcased Mr. Bush in local television interviews and "presidential" forums.

Testing a newly crafted stump speech, the president pushed what his advisers see as the hot buttons of the contest:

* Of the Democrats, he said, "They want to raise taxes; I want to get this country back to work."

* Referring to calls by Mr. Buchanan and some Democrats to punish countries that restrict U.S. goods, he noted the 58,000 jobs created by trade coming through the port of Savannah and said, "We don't cut and run in this country; we compete."

* In the Bible Belt, Mr. Bush revived a call for voluntary prayer in schools and attended services at Atlanta's largest Baptist church.

* Giving Georgia special credit for sending "nearly 10,000 sons and daughters" to fight in the Persian Gulf war, he said, "Georgia said with me: Aggression will not stand."

Like voters in New Hampshire, though, many Georgians seemed to be looking for more.

Pat Atkins, a state employee from Savannah who plans to vote for Mr. Bush, said she wished he could take time to spend the time with average Americans to learn how serious their financial problems are. "I don't think it's getting through to him," she said. "I think he's getting bum advice."

The chance to see a president is rarely resisted even by die-hard political opponents, but Mr. Bush had an ample share of true fans mixed in with the friendly doubters.

"I just think he's going to do what he says he's going to do," said Audrey Munson, a Savannah homemaker. "Now that the war is ZTC over, he's going to fix the economy."

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