Angst Over Just Who Is ‘One of Us’ Grips Dole and Bush in N.H.
Suddenly, the Republican presidential race has been gripped by a serious identity crisis. Call it “which one of these guys is one of us” angst .
Sen. Bob Dole, who hails from Kansas, won the Iowa caucuses by convincing folks there that, by virtue of his humble Midwestern roots, he was “one of us.”
Dole hit New Hampshire for Tuesday’s crucial primary only to find his Iowa slogan swiped by Vice President George Bush, who grew up in Connecticut, moved to Texas but summers these days in nearby Maine.
Presto! Being “one of us” changed on the Dole campaign from a statement of place to a state of mind.
“I don’t believe you determine who’s one of us by where we live but by what we are, where we came from and how we got here,” Dole told a group of realtors here Thursday morning.
His strategists are clucking over what they think is a desperate blunder by Bush that only exposes the vice president’s Achilles heel--a lingering image of a wishy-washy, pampered preppie.
“It’s insane, they’re coming unglued,” smirked Tom Rath, one of Dole’s top advisers here. " . . . He (Bush) said he was one of us, I thought he was talking about his country club.”
William E. Brock III, Dole’s national campaign chairman, said if Bush has trouble whipping up enthusiasm it is because he has been “cocooned” by his own detachment. “The vice president is so protected,” Brock said. “His staff has said the vice president thinks talking issues is risky. . . . He seems to be campaigning on the sense that he was due the nomination by right of inheritance. He’s got to change and change very fast.”
Bush tried to loosen up Thursday with some staged publicity stunts. He drove an 18-wheel rig around a truck stop and piloted a forklift through a lumberyard.
Meanwhile, the Dole campaign has gone out of its way both in style and substance to contrast Dole’s pragmatic, homey manner to the tony, standoffishness of Bush. One clear difference involves the Secret Service, which Bush has used along with trappings of his office to put distance between himself and both the press and public.
Dole Rejects Protection
Dole, on the other hand, rejected Secret Service protection when it first became available to presidential candidates after Christmas. Mari Maseng, his chief spokesman, said Dole feared the guard would inhibit his spontaneity and limit access to voters. The agents, however, will be coming on board next week to cope with growing crowds and media attention.
There has always been a freewheeling, seat-of-the-pants nature to the Dole campaign. He wades into crowds, answers questions on the fly and makes spur-of-the-moment stops to shake hands and even to satisfy his sweet tooth.
Unlike Bush, Dole is at ease with the press and meets frequently with reporters, both in formal news settings and informal chats. And, in a subtle jab at both Bush and President Reagan, Dole has pledged in recent days to hold frequent news conferences as President to give Americans a better feel for who he is and what he stands for.
Lately, the campaign has taken on a thematic tone. Dole serves up a diet of issue-of-the-day speeches outlining broad policy initiatives on topics such as foreign policy, the economy, the environment and child care. The goal is to portray Dole as an active leader in contrast to Bush.
And wherever he goes, Dole invokes the small-town values of thrift and compassion he learned in Russell, the tiny Kansas town where he grew up during the Depression-era Dust Bowl days and where he recuperated from crippling wounds suffered in World War II.
“The American people are looking for somebody close to the people . . . not just somebody up here all their life,” Dole said in Goffstown Wednesday, waving his good arm over his head to emphasize the point. “I come from a small town with traditional values, hard work.”
Terry Coturier, one of those in the audience, was impressed although she has not yet committed her vote. “We saw Bush here, he’s a nice gentleman,” said the 60-year-old housewife with a shrug of her shoulders. “But this man (Dole), he’s got a lot of savoir-faire.”