Bush seeks win in final inning President says race 'ain't over'

October 21, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

CORNELIA, Ga. -- With the presidential race nearly over, President Bush is hitting his stride at last.

Buoyed by a strong showing in the final presidential debate Monday and reassured by the warm embrace of enthusiasm in mostly Republican towns along his train ride yesterday through the South, Mr. Bush is scrambling to show he is still in the running.

"Remember the last inning of the Braves game when everyone was headed for the exits" and the last batter, Francisco Cabrera, drove in the winning runs that put the Atlanta team into the World Series, the president told an Atlanta television audience. "That's what's going to happen in this election, so stay tuned."

Later, he took the baseball analogy a step further before a gathering of several thousand supporters in Norcross, Ga. "It ain't over until Cabrera swings," he said.

By the time his chartered train -- bearing a rail safety sign that read, "Operation Lifesaver" -- reached the next stop in Gainesville, Ga., Mr. Bush was wearing a red, white and blue Braves jacket and doing the "tomahawk chop" off the rear platform. He was introduced by an announcer who said simply: "Last of the ninth. . . ."

"I can't tell you what this has done for my spirits," Mr. Bush said in concluding a particularly exuberant address to more than 5,000 fans in Cornelia.

But the president's situation may be more aptly compared with that of the tortoise coming to life just as the hare is about to step over the finish line. The fact that he is spending two days on a train riding through what should be the safe states of Georgia, North Carolina and even South Carolina shows how much ground he still has to cover.

"Never in my 56 years have I seen an election turn around the last two weeks," said Walt Snelling, 56, a gas and diesel fuel supplier in Gainesville, who said he will vote for Mr. Bush but believes he has no chance of winning.

Mr. Bush is sprinting now through a non-stop campaign schedule that will take him to four cities and at least two states every day until the election on Nov. 3. Two more of these expensive but picturesque train trips are planned through the Midwest.

"We've got a busy schedule, morning, noon and night," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "When you're behind, you go all-out."

Supporters and analysts agreed that Mr. Bush seems to have finally found the formula for sharply challenging the front-runner, Bill Clinton, in a way that doesn't demean the presidency.

"The campaign has never done the job we should have been doing in getting across a clear, concise picture of these two guys," said Ron Kaufman, the White House political director. "[Monday] night for the first time, the president did that. All we have to do now for the next 14 days is to keep that clear picture."

Even so, Bush advisers claim no more than a "hope" that the president can overcome Mr. Clinton's lead in the polls of 15 to 19 percent age points.

Surveys taken after Monday night's debate suggest the voters may no longer be listening to the president. Several polls indicated that Mr. Bush may actually have lost ground, despite a stronger performance than he gave in the first two debates.

True believers such as Betty Dalhouer, 54, who drove four hours to see Mr. Bush yesterday, keep their faith by turning off the news media and relying solely on anecdotal evidence from their friends.

"Everyone says to me, 'They never call us for the polls.' I still think he has a great chance," said Mrs. Dalhouer, who operates a portable sign with daily messages of support for Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush's pleasure in his own performance Monday night was clear in his speeches yesterday, as he frequently quoted himself and his opponents.

His own favorite line came when he one-upped Mr. Clinton's assertion that he would serve as his own economic adviser and Mr. Bush shot back, "That's what I'm afraid of."

But Mr. Bush hastened to rebut Mr. Perot's charge that the Bush administration is withholding documents related to the U.S. policy toward Iraq shortly before that country's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"Every single paper, including the secretary of state's notes, which is unprecedented, was taken up to the United States Congress and looked at in detail," Mr. Bush said in response to a question from a television studio audience in Atlanta.

He said that James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and now White House chief of staff, informed Mr. Perot of that after the debate and that Mr. Perot "said he hadn't known that."

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