Current polls showing Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton well ahead of President Bush fail to take the kitchen table factor into account, according to Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm.
So far, he said, Americans are avoiding the decision that must be made on Nov. 3, Election Day. Though unhappy with the economy under Mr. Bush, voters are not drawn to the alternative, Clinton. So, they delay the family confabs where hopes and concerns and fears about the contenders are weighed and reconciled.
"They haven't gone to the kitchen table yet," the senator said.
When they do, he contended, they will recognize that Republicans have the only sensible plan for managing the U.S. economy through a period of global change.
Speaking yesterday at the Hyatt Hotel during a breakfast fund-raiser for the Maryland Republican Party, Mr. Gramm acknowledged that the president is up against the usual tendency to blame an incumbent for difficult economic conditions. At the same time, he insisted, they are not drawn to Mr. Clinton.
"Democrats hold out the hope they can stop the process of [global marketplace restructuring]," he said. "The American people know that's not possible."
A former economics professor at Texas A&M University, Mr. Gramm said Mr. Clinton's tax proposals will be far more ambitious than the Democratic candidate has suggested. And new taxes will retard recovery, he said.
"Only in Cuba, North Korea and the United States Democratic Party do we have people who think government is the answer," he said. The only way to make American workers and industry competitive in a world economic order where markets have merged and defense industries are much less needed, he said, is to lower taxes and "make government smaller and less intrusive."
"We have to make sure that every American understands the difference between us and them on economic planning," he said. Only greater efficiency will make American industry more competitive, he said.
Since Ronald Reagan left the presidency, he said, the Republican Party has lost some of its edge in the political argument. Mr. Reagan, known as a master communicator, knew a message had to be repeated constantly for people to really understand and accept it. Often, Mr. Gramm said, the voter, who has important matters to attend to, isn't listening to the political dialogue. That seems particularly true this year, he said.
In a time of economic uncertainty, he said, people may be anxious to hear an instant solution, possibly one involving the federal government. The Republicans are saying government-directed solutions will not work.
Though recent polls have Mr. Clinton running ahead in Maryland, Mr. Gramm said he thinks Mr. Bush can win here. He said he believes a "resurgence of Republicanism" in this state, reflected by gains in voter registration and by a cadre of young, state-level GOP office seekers, are part of the reason for his optimism.
"I don't want to take any credit away from your governor," he said to the delight of his audience. During the current economic recession, Democratic administrations in Maryland have had to cope with a series of budget crises, tax increases and program cutbacks.
Mr. Graham said a Clinton administration would bring similar problems at the federal level.
American voters, he said, will see this when they meet around the kitchen table in the coming weeks to discuss their presidential choices.