Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis, seeking to bolster support in the South, announced Tuesday that he had chosen Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate.
Dukakis told cheering supporters at historic Fanueil Hall that his decision was his "first presidential act" and compared it to the Massachusetts-Texas Democratic ticket in 1960.
"Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson beat an incumbent Republican vice president (Richard M. Nixon) in 1960, and Mike Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen are going to beat (the Republicans) in 1988," the Massachusetts governor said.
The silver-haired Bentsen, 67, appeared to fight back tears when he spoke. His wife, Beryl Ann, who is known as "B. A.," stood grinning behind him.
'We're Going to Fight'
"The fact he's taken a senator from Texas, a senator from the South, shows we're going to fight for every state and we're going all out to win," Bentsen said.
The choice of a millionaire Southern conservative who differs with Dukakis on such issues as aid to the Contras and use of political action committee money came as a surprise to many in the Dukakis campaign, and it was coolly greeted by some supporters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The choice was also seen as something of a gamble for Dukakis, who is known for his cautious political style. Bentsen's reliance on PAC financing and his brief use of a "breakfast club" to raise campaign funds by charging lobbyists $10,000 each to join, are sure to draw attention.
But Dukakis aides pointed out that Bentsen is extremely popular in Texas, which has 29 electoral votes and is the third-biggest prize in November. No Democrat has ever won the White House without carrying the Lone Star State.
Moreover, Bentsen carries the cachet of having beaten George Bush, the presumed Republican nominee, when Bush ran for the Senate from Texas in 1970.
"We were going to be competi tive in Texas before," said Tom Cosgrove, who led Dukakis' successful Texas primary campaign. "We're gonna kick his butt now."
Bentsen, who made a fortune in insurance after three terms in Congress, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 but won only six delegates. He now is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is considered one of the most powerful legislators in Washington.
Democratic Party Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., who flew here for the announcement, praised Bentsen as "a senior statesman in the U.S. Senate" and "a tough negotiator with a keen intellect, in touch with working America."
Dukakis clearly sought to reassure Jackson's supporters when he told the crowd that, "Lloyd Bentsen brings to this ticket, and will bring to this nation, years of experience and a deep commitment to civil rights and opportunity that goes way back to the 1940s."
He added: "And if there's one commitment that defines him, and it's a commitment we share, it's good jobs and economic opportunity for every single citizen in this country."
Dukakis selected Bentsen late Monday night after a 75-minute meeting around his kitchen table with his wife and three top aides, according to his campaign chairman, Paul P. Brountas, who directed the search for a running mate. The decision ended a process that began a month ago and that was, by all accounts, much like the candidate: disciplined, deliberate and tightly controlled.
However, his series of meetings with potential running mates also fueled considerable speculation that was beginning to detract from his candidacy and raised questions about whether the process was becoming too protracted.
Reaction to the announcement predictably split along partisan lines.
Lee Atwater, Bush's campaign manager, said Democrats have "thrown away the vice presidential selection" by picking Bentsen.
"After all is said and done, they're not going to win Texas," he said. "People in Texas want a President, not a vice president. And George Bush is the man they want."
Bush, en route to baseball's All-Star Game in Cincinnati, told reporters, "That's interesting. That's what I think about it," when asked about the Bentsen selection.
Peter Kelly, Democratic Party chairman in California, said, "I think it's a great choice. . . . One of the very positive messages the Dukakis campaign projects is competency," and Bentsen helps on that. "He's not a household word, but in a while he will be."
"Democratic prospects in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana will be boosted immediately, and when the American people get to know Lloyd Bentsen, it will strengthen the ticket everywhere," said Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, a former rival of Dukakis.
Jackson Backers 'in Shock'
The choice of Bentsen was a bitter pill for some Jackson supporters, who had hoped until the end that Dukakis might choose the civil rights leader, despite polling data that indicated he would drag the party to defeat in November. Dr. William F. Gibson, board chairman of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said many Jackson supporters were "in shock."
But Joslyn Williams, District of Columbia party chairman, said: "There's an overwhelming desire to see a Democrat in the White House. There are other candidates with a more progressive and liberal bent for a black constituency, yes, but we also know the political reality . . . it takes a coalition . . . we think we have a progressive white man in Dukakis, and now we have to reach out to others . . . if it takes a Bentsen to put him over the top . . . we'll work for him."
Dukakis' choice came as a particular surprise because the two appeared cool and distant when they met last Friday in Texarkana, Tex. Bentsen indicated to reporters at the time that he did not expect to be chosen. They did not appear much warmer on stage here, with Mrs. Dukakis whispering in her husband's ear to remind him to bring Bentsen to the podium.
Although Bentsen, at 6-foot-2, stands half a foot taller than Dukakis and is 13 years older, the two are similar in some respects. Like Dukakis, Bentsen is regarded as aloof and a wooden speaker despite his deep, gravelly voice. Both men wore identical gray suits, blue shirts and red ties. And both are respected for competence and command of often-dry detail.
After the announcement, the two men went to the gold-domed Statehouse to meet Massachusetts legislators. While in the Senate chamber, they viewed a bust of Bentsen's great-great-uncle, Henry Wilson, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts who was elected vice president under Ulysses S. Grant after the Civil War.
"I'm delighted to see a governor who shows proper respect for the Senate," Bentsen joked.