Stumping in San Diego : Bush Covers the Bases, From Jets to Haystacks

Times Staff Writers

Nine-year-old Josh Way was towed by his mother Friday to Escondido's Grape Day Park to see what a vice president looks like, and it was a learning experience.

"The vice president," opined Josh, "dresses up in tuxedos. He votes for the real President . . . who makes the laws."

But, Josh admitted, he didn't know what "politics" was.

By Friday afternoon, Josh had gotten an earful of it.

Chants for Bush

It was billed by the White House as an "official visit" by the vice president. But let there be no confusion: Bush's visit to Escondido Friday afternoon was political, through and through--right down to the warm-up by a master of ceremonies who divided the crowd in two and led George Bush chants.

Under a sky nearly as blue as the hundreds of Bush campaign signs liberally distributed to the crowd, an audience estimated at 2,500 to 4,500 people turned out to see a presidential candidate. Vice president, sure. But the real drawing card on Friday was the chance to meet the man who might become President.

And it left the home folks pleased as punch--even if some grumbled that Bush was nearly an hour late, which sapped some of their political hoopla under a hot afternoon sun.

"It's always exciting when a politician comes to town," said Escondido dentist Dr. Randy Jungman, who canceled his afternoon appointments to see Bush for himself. "And, sure it was typically political sounding, but it's still exciting to hear in person. I'm a Republican, and he spoke my values."

The afternoon's stumping might as well have been a tribute to Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), whose office set up Bush's 32-minute appearance on the porch of a restored Santa Fe depot in the park's Heritage Walk collection of historical buildings.

Packard was gushing as he introduced Bush to the crowd: "Mr. Vice President, welcome to North County. I can't think of a better way for the City of Escondido to celebrate its 100th birthday than to have you here."

And Bush returned the compliment: "We have to return him (Packard) to Washington, and all I ask is that you give me the same percentage," Bush said. "You gave him 73%. I'll take that."

On to Campaign Talk

Then, with his only reference to North County behind him, Bush quickly segued into a cookie-cutter campaign spiel that covered such Republican campaign touchstones as the economy, the fight against drugs, a strong national defense for use as bargaining leverage with the Soviets and support for education.

Earlier Friday, Bush presided over the opening-day ceremonies for Air/Space America at Brown Field, where he joined San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor and Gov. George Deukmejian in heaping praise upon the aerospace industry and San Diego's role in it.

He reminded the audience--even if he didn't need to--that Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis was built in San Diego, as were the first rocket engines for the U.S. space program.

"Some say we're no longer the world leader in space travel," Bush said. "Some say we're falling behind and can't compete."

But the air show and exposition, Bush said, are proof that "America does have the drive to compete."

"In the years ahead, I'm confident America will not only compete but will prevail," he said. "We'll build a space station. We'll explore the solar system with both manned and unmanned missions. We'll look for ways to protect our borders and those of our allies with space-based strategic defense. And we'll get our space shuttle program back where it belongs--off the ground and into the heavens."

Technology aside, Bush then watched the show's ceremonial ribbon cut by a stunt pilot flying a biplane upside down.

He watched as a dozen Navy parachutists jumped from a C-130 cargo plane. And he grinned for the cameras in front of a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber with Leo Nadeau of Ramona, who was a gunner on Bush's own crew during World War II.

"We had a ball, if you can call war a ball," Nadeau said of his days in the air with Bush.

From Jets to Haystacks

Bush and the national media then gawked as a sleek B-1 bomber made several low-level passes before Bush was driven by motorcade through a time warp of sorts to Escondido, where he was plopped in the middle of a city park decorated with haystacks, antique cars, high school bands, red-white-and-blue bunting and fluttering American flags.

Welcome to Escondido. It might as well have been Peoria or any other stop on the presidential campaign trail, but the local folks weren't bothered. After all, how often does the national press come to town?

Supporters were told to gather by 3 p.m., but some showed up as early as 11, like 75-year-old Jim Murphy. "My man was really Jack Kemp," he offered, "but I might as well meet some other Republicans today." Murphy showed some business cards of Packard aides he had already met, and smiled.

Bush bumper stickers and buttons were handed out by handsome teen-agers. Younger children handed out hand-lettered placards, saying things like "It's Bush Tine."

"Ooops," the artist sighed when he realized his error.

Patricia Drage said she came to see her second presidential candidate. "I think I remember seeing Barry Goldwater on the back of a train once," she said. "I hope I'm not a kiss of death for candidates."

Ed Johnson has a decidedly better record. "I've personally seen every president from FDR on, except Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman," he boasted. But heck, they were Democrats anyway.

Bush arrived at 4:11 p.m. and immediately ducked into a small waiting room in the train depot that was decorated with an American flag, a potted plant, a chair and an end table. There he found two diet Cokes on ice. Bush had to get to a waiting telephone call, his aides said. Bush emerged nine minutes later to cheers; bands from San Marcos and Orange Glen High Schools played over each other from different sides of the park.

Skipper Dennis Conner presented Bush with a mounted model of his Stars & Stripes yacht that won the America's Cup and invited him back to San Diego next year to christen his next boat. And a handful of other politicians were introduced--including Escondido Mayor Jim Rady, who said absolutely nothing to the crowd's apparent delight.

After Bush finished his remarks, knocking both Democrat presidential candidates, Jesse Jackson and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, for "underestimating America" and its work force, he worked the front line of the crowd with handshakes and a smile before he left town.

Twenty feet behind him, Packard shook somewhat fewer hands.

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