No state is too small in home stretch for Bush Tightening race lifts GOP spirits

October 26, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

BILLINGS, Mont. -- President Bush entered the home stretch of his re-election campaign yesterday, clawing state by state to catch up with Democrat Bill Clinton and finding no prize too small to fight for.

"Every nurse, every technician, every farmer, watch out -- he's coming after your wallet," Mr. Bush warned at a rally here yesterday, as he battled for South Dakota's three electoral votes. "Mr. and Mrs. America, don't let him do it."

Mr. Bush also told the farming community audience of several thousand that after Mr. Clinton's recent visit to the state, the Arkansas governor said he wouldn't commit himself until after the election to a Clean Air Act waiver, which Mr. Bush already has granted for the use of ethanol fuel made from grain.

"That's wrong for two reasons," Mr. Bush said. "I did the right thing in granting the waiver, and he ain't going to be elected president."

A few hours later, he appeared here courting Montana's three electoral votes in a park not far from the Little Big Horn battleground, where Gen. George A. Custer and his calvary were killed in 1876. Sitting on a stool alone in an outdoor stage surrounded by supporters, the president took questions so softly tossed he observed of one: "You could see the seams as it was coming across the [baseball] plate."

"Better than Donahue -- wall-to-wall people," Mr. Bush said of the "Ask George Bush" session that was beamed to local television stations.

Earlier in Detroit yesterday, Mr. Bush returned to the successful "law and order" theme of his 1988 campaign, warning an international group of police officers that Mr. Clinton's 12-year record as Arkansas governor shows that he is not tough enough on crime.

The president contended that violent crime in Arkansas has been particularly high but that money spent on police and the length of jail time served there is unusually low.

"So no wonder crime goes ballistic there during the '80s," Mr. Bush said. "You're supposed to handcuff criminals -- not tie the hands of the police."

In Detroit, the president also signed into law two bills that would impose tougher penalties for car-jackers and that make it easier to catch "deadbeat" fathers who fail to make support payments for their children.

Bush officials said yesterday they were heartened by new polls showing the presidential race is tightening and undaunted by numbers that suggest Mr. Clinton is losing support to independent Ross Perot with Mr. Bush making no real gain.

"I think the president's themes are starting to connect," said Michigan Gov. John Engler, who told reporters yesterday that his state's 18 electoral votes now appear to be within Mr. Bush's reach.

"The Perot movement is at Clinton's expense. . . . Among likely voters, it's a very narrow race," he said.

Mr. Engler said he believes Mr. Bush's prospects have improved because of the numerous appearances he's made recently on television talk shows. More such appearances are planned, and the campaign is also set to air two new television ads that promote the president rather than attack his opponents.

The optimistic atmosphere was underscored by the first appearance on the campaign trail of White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III. The former secretary of state gave up his job in September to help rescue his friend's re-election effort but hardly has been seen in public.

"I think it is winnable," Mr. Baker told reporters in Sioux Falls.

But as Mr. Bush began a final 10-day swing, mostly through what has historically been safe Republican territory in the Midwest and in mountain states, he was plagued by a new spate of negative publicity.

The most explosive was a charge leveled by Mr. Perot on the CBS program "60 Minutes" last night that the Bush campaign drove him from the race last summer by threatening to smear his daughter with a doctored photograph and to disrupt her wedding.

White House officials dismissed the accusation as groundless and nonsense, but it drew major attention from the news media.

Also yesterday, Mr. Bush was hit with a report in the New York Times that he ignored advice to take a tougher stand against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

And the Associated Press reported that Mr. Baker pressed in 1989 for continued grain credits to Iraq despite evidence that Iraq was abusing the farm-aid program. As secretary of state, Mr. Baker was said to be more concerned about Iraq's help in getting the Palestinians to the peace table with Israel.

Both reports tend to support allegations that the Bush administration could have prevented the invasion of Kuwait and subsequent Persian Gulf war.

"A lot of people want to embarrass the president," Mr. Fitzwater said.

"The fact is, we're closing this race, we're getting close, a lot of people are getting scared," the spokesman continued. "You're going to see a lot of pretty weird stories in the next few days. So get ready, America."

The Bush campaign was more impressed by a report in the London Sunday Telegraph that Mr. Clinton had allegedly made a deal with European Commission Chairman Jacques Delors to withhold approval of a speedy agreement on a new trade treaty. Mr. Clinton denied the charge.

"They're afraid we might get something done and they're trying to undo it," Mr. Bush said. "I don't think that kind of politics works, and it's going to blow up in their face."

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