Bush talks about relaxed life after he leaves office -- 5 years from now

October 28, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

KETTERING, Ohio -- President Bush broke yesterday what so far has been an unviolable rule of his struggling re-election campaign: He talked about life after the White House.

"I'm going to get big into the grandchildren business, I'm going to get big into the golfing business, and I'm going to tell my handlers, who won't be around any more: 'Don't worry about it if I want to go out in a boat or something else,' " he said. "'I know what I'm doing.' "

"But I'm talking five years from today, not now," Mr. Bush stressed yesterday during an interview with Bryant Gumble on NBC's "Today" show.

Even so, it was the farthest Mr. Bush has gone in publicly contemplating the quite possible result of a race in which he has only a few days left to catch up with Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.

Usually the president just says, as he told Mr. Gumble, that a competitor can't let himself think about defeat without it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But as he spends what may be his last few days in the spotlight of American political life, the president might be forgiven for looking forward to a time when he can do what he wants with his time.

He is racing daily between such remote and diverse spots as Billings, Mont., and Paducah, Ky., and Racine, Wis., with the intensity of a man who wants to make sure he doesn't miss anything. But his exhausted expression says he can't wait until it's over.

"I'm tired of these darn Sunday talk shows telling me I have no chance -- heck with that," Mr. Bush said yesterday in Paducah at the same time he acknowledged the "mournful" polls.

The president got his first really good economic news on the campaign trail yesterday, with the word that the gross domestic product grew last quarter much faster than expected.

"That was better than Japan, better than Germany, better than Europe," Mr. Bush declared to an enthusiastic gathering of a couple of thousand supporters in Kettering.

More critical at this point, however, was whether he could find some way to get that news to make a difference to voters who have already written him off.

On this final campaign swing that Clinton supporters gleefully call Mr. Bush's "farewell tour," the president has been campaigning like no chief executive before him.

His rallies and whistle stops seem little more than backdrops for the extensive television appearances that have become the major vehicle for his outreach to voters.

Yesterday it was the "Today" show on location in Des Moines, Iowa. Today it will be "Good Morning America" on location in Lima, Ohio. Last week, it was CBS "This Morning" on location in Raleigh at the North Carolina State Fair.

But besides the networks, Mr. Bush is also reaching out to local television outlets for interviews and question-and-answer sessions called "Ask George Bush."

Wherever they can get away with it, his aides allow only the Republican faithful into such sessions and coach them to feed the president what he calls "slow balls."

In Billings, Mont., for example, there was a little boy who asked Mr. Bush to tell him about the terrible days of Democratic President Jimmy Carter and a man who wondered how Mr. Clinton could order young people to war as commander-in-chief since he avoided military service himself.

Sometimes, though, Mr. Bush subjects himself to the more probing questions and outright challenges of undecided voters assembled by a local television station. He participated in a program like that yesterday at station WPSD in Paducah, where he was asked how he thinks he can still win.

"It is humbling," said Ron Kaufman, the White House political director.

In fact, it is a very big tumble for Mr. Bush and his best friend and top aide, James A. Baker III, who spent last Sunday night in Billings dining in the restaurant of the local Holiday Inn.

But for the ubiquitous Secret Service agents, they would have gone unnoticed by the handful of other patrons.

This was in contrast to the night in Bermuda in March 1991, when the crowd at a plush restaurant waited four hours for Mr. Bush to finish his meal and then gave him a standing ovation and a chorus of "God Bless America."

In Billings, people stared shyly as Mr. Bush walked by, a few reached out to shake his hand and one man declared loudly, "I'm voting for you, Mr. President."

Mr. Bush has found much sympathy and comfort on the campaign trail by blaming his problems on the news media for all the "very, very negative coverage we've been receiving."

He pulled back a little yesterday, though, when he learned his supporters were taking out their anger on the reporters and photographers who travel with him across the country by hurling objects as well as epithets their way. Many in the press corps have gotten rough treatment by Bush crowds in the past few days.

"Get a life, media scum," yelled one man in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The president pleaded with his supporters in Paducah yesterday: "Don't take it out on these guys with the cameras, the boom mikes. Take it out on the talking heads in the national press."

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