POLITICS '88 : Good Audiences : Defense Plants Popular Bush Campaign Stop

Times Political Writer

Call it George Bush's defense strategy.

Defense, that is, as in defense plant.

This spring, with no pressure bearing on him from his own party, Vice President Bush has in mind campaigning as cautiously as possible, playing the sure bets.

Which brings him to defense plants. Lots of defense plants, and plants of other technological industries, such as electronics and computers.

The GOP nominee-in-waiting's campaign schedule for Thursday, Friday and today befits an Army inspector general:

Honeywell Defense Avionics in Albuquerque, N.M.; the American Electronics Assn. in San Diego; Hughes Ground Systems in Fullerton; Air/Space America Air Show in San Diego, and INTEL Research and Development in Portland, Ore. Bush also has recently visited TRW in Redondo Beach and traveled to plants where workers make Army all-terrain Hummer vehicles, jeep radios and F-16 fighters, among other things.

Vow Not to Cut Defense Funds

Presumably, the self-interested defense worker vote is already Bush's, considering the stated desire of Democrats to cut defense spending and Bush's vow not to cut it.

But there is both substance and safe haven for Bush in using the defense plant as a campaign backdrop.

The facilities are a haven because they shield Bush from unpleasant surprises, such as hostile audiences, demonstrators or hecklers.

But more important, as the Bush camp explains, defense policy is an area of clean and sharp difference between the vice president and the likely Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

On Friday, Bush raised the level of accusatory language against Dukakis, claiming that the Massachusetts governor's hold-the-line military spending policies "would be dangerous to the defense . . . of the country."

Speaking at a lunch rally of 4,000 to 5,000 friendly workers at Hughes Ground Systems, Orange County's largest private employer, Bush said:

"Gov. Dukakis and Jesse Jackson too oppose virtually every step we are taking to keep our defenses at the technological edge. Dukakis opposes the MX. He opposes testing of nuclear weapons. He opposes flight testing of ballistic missiles. He opposes the . . . Strategic Defense Initiative."

Arms Reduction Talks Cited

The vice president argued that "abandonment of major weapons programs" would make arms reductions talks with the Soviet Union more difficult.

"The Dukakis Doctrine is a doctrine of wishful thinking," he said. "Even Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale supported systems that Gov. Dukakis opposes."

In response, Dukakis issues director Christopher F. Edley Jr. said the Massachusetts governor is for "stable defense spending, not deep cuts."

Edley said he could understand why Bush would be talking about subjects other than the deepening controversy over the Administration's confrontation with Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noreiga.

"But it's puzzling why he wants us to look at the Reagan-Bush legacy of wasteful defense programs and halfhearted progress on strategic negotiations," Edley said.

During his six-day Western swing, which began Thursday, Bush also was scheduled to travel to Oregon, Washington and California's Central Valley.

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