WASHINGTON -- Plugging into the new television politics of the 1992 campaign, President Bush said yesterday he doesn't know whether he has lost touch with the American people but he's exploring new ways to make contact.
"I might just give that a try -- I like it," Mr. Bush told a Cable News Network interviewer when asked if he planned to converse with ordinary voters via TV talk shows. "Maybe I should do more of it."
Thus the president joined his challengers in stepping off the traditional Television Age route of stump speeches and sound bites to try to reach the broader audience that no longer tunes in to network news.
With his once-soaring popularity soured to the point that in polls he is now trailing Ross Perot, whose entire political career has unfolded on talk television in the past five months, Mr. Bush acknowledged that he needs a new approach.
"I don't know" whether the polls reflect the remoteness of his office or simply that he has lost touch with the voters, Mr. Bush said during an interview on CNN's "International Hour." But he added that making himself more available to mass audiences "might be a way to help."
So far, the only other such appearance on the president's schedule is an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC's "20/20" program that is expected to air June 26.
Mr. Bush noted that he has revived the question-and-answer format dubbed "Ask George Bush," which was among his favorite tactics in 1988. Two such events are scheduled this week when he makes a swing through Texas and California.
Bush aides argue that the president performs well in such settings and could easily convert that skill to fielding calls from a talk show audience. But his campaign audiences are more carefully screened, and his appearances at such events are not broadcast to a national audience.
And Mr. Bush certainly is not about to install an 800 number at the White House, he said.
By contrast, Mr. Clinton, who broke with tradition earlier this month by playing his saxophone on the late-night "Arsenio Hall" show, is now conducting an almost total television tour.
He spent two hours yesterday taking questions from the New York studio audience of a CBS morning show and is scheduled to face queries from a gathering of 18- to 25-year-olds in California on MTV tonight. The Arkansas governor is due to arrive in Washington later in the week to appear on CNN's "Larry King Live."
Meanwhile, Mr. Perot, who fielded calls for two hours on NBC's "Today" show last week, has withdrawn from the cameras briefly as he assembles his campaign.