Politics 88 : South, West Held Crucial for Bush : GOP Will Target 23 States in November Election Bid

Times Washington Bureau Chief

While the Democrats are still trying to settle their race for the presidential nomination, the Republicans say they’ve come up with what they believe is a winning strategy in November. The plan is for Vice President George Bush to target 23 states, mostly in the South, Southwest and West, that would put the Republican nominee well on the way to winning the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected.

Republican Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said that while Bush will not write off any states, he will give high priority to the target states on such efforts as voter registration, absentee ballots and get-out-the-vote drives.

Fahrenkopf, interviewed at a breakfast session with reporters, declined to name the target states, but he later said many of them are among the 23 states with a total of 202 electoral votes that the Republican nominee has carried in every presidential election since 1968.


California Among States

The states are California, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Although optimistic about Bush’s chances, Fahrenkopf predicted a close race and pointed out it is the first election in 20 years without an incumbent as a candidate. If Bush is elected, it would be the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman that a party has held the White House for more than two consecutive terms.

Asked whether Bush might turn to Gov. George Deukmejian as a running mate if California were considered crucial to winning the election, Fahrenkopf said that while “you never say never” in politics, the odds would be against it. Republicans would not want to relinquish control of the state to a Democrat, Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, he said.

In an interview, Democratic Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., agreeing with Fahrenkopf that it will be a close election, said: “It’s up for grabs across the country.”

Kirk said that over the weekend he had been in Indiana, one of the states the GOP has carried in the last five elections, “and the more I travel around I find conventional wisdom this year is wrong on about every page it’s written. A lot of things could flip this time around. There’s no guarantee Indiana will go to the Republican Party this year and they could lose a lot of the other states they traditionally carry.”

‘Real Shot’ in Midwest

Although Fahrenkopf suggested that Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the likely Democratic nominee, is too liberal to have much chance in the South, Kirk said he expects Dukakis to be competitive there and elsewhere, with “a real shot” in the traditionally Republican Midwest and West.

Kirk predicted that attempts to label Dukakis a liberal “will wash off because he’s a pragmatist and a problem solver and those things will ring true in the South.”

Fahrenkopf and Kirk, co-chairmen of the Commission on Presidential Debates, did agree on one thing: the merit of the commission’s proposal that the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees meet in three presidential debates and that the vice presidential nominees meet in a single debate.

The League of Women Voters, which has sponsored presidential debates in the past, has announced plans to sponsor debates again this year, but the party chairmen said they believe their commission has provided “the most attractive debate proposals to the candidates.”

The commission proposed holding the debates in Annapolis, Md., Sept. 14; Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., Sept. 25; Omaha, Neb., Oct. 11, and Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct. 27.

Reagan to Campaign for Bush

Fahrenkopf, in his interview, said President Reagan will campaign “vigorously” for Bush and other Republicans and suggested the President might begin campaign appearances before the vice president is formally nominated at the Republican convention in New Orleans in August.

With Democrats outnumbering Republicans 54 to 46 in the Senate, most political observers have said they see little chance the GOP will recapture control of the Senate this year.

However, Fahrenkopf said Republican chances have been boosted by the decisions of three veteran Democratic senators to retire, Lawton Chiles of Florida, John C. Stennis of Mississippi, and William Proxmire of Wisconsin.