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GOP Opens Parley Firing Broadsides at Gov. Dukakis : Haig Says Foe’s Just ‘a Clerk’

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Reuters

Republicans began their national convention today and within minutes were firing broadsides at Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis.

Leading the barrage, former NATO commander Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. called him a “diminutive clerk from Massachusetts” who could ruin America.

The opening prayer had barely wafted through the rafters of the cavernous New Orleans Superdome when the attacks began.

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About 5,000 delegates have gathered in New Orleans to nominate Vice President George Bush, a man hounded by negative public perceptions and trailing Dukakis in most opinion polls, as their candidate for the Nov. 8 election.

Ruining an Image

A major aim of the four-day meeting is to build up Bush’s weak image by tearing down Dukakis’ strong one.

The effective “Where was George?” slogan coined at the Democratic convention in Atlanta last month--a reference to Bush’s near invisibility in policy-making in eight years as President Reagan’s most loyal lieutenant--has its echo here in Republican cries of “Who’s Mike?”

Reagan, who brought Republicans back into the White House for two terms after the disgrace of Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, was to make his farewell address to the party tonight.

Spellbinding Speech

Aides said it would be a spellbinder replete with lengthy praise for his low-key vice president.

“It’s an excellent speech,” said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. “It will be remembered for eons. The people here will be standing, cheering, crying.”

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Until Reagan speaks, the Republicans gathered under the klieg lights of the Superdome have to make do with lesser figures like Haig, chief of staff in the Nixon White House whose own attempt to win the party’s presidential nomination collapsed in February.

“Gov. Dukakis is not the candidate of safe progressive change, but the candidate of radical and dangerous change,” he declared.

The Odd Couple’

Referring to the Democrats’ Atlanta convention, Haig scoffed at “an off-Broadway revival of the ‘The Odd Couple,’ starring the diminutive clerk from Massachusetts and the tall stranger from Texas (Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Lloyd Bentsen).”

All but one of the party’s most powerful figures were in New Orleans, a solidly Democratic city whose idea of politics and life itself is to party, party and party some more.

Bush was in Washington putting the final touches on his acceptance speech, aimed at giving Americans an inspiring view of his vision for the future and a deep insight to the man who has been largely obscured by the long shadow of Reagan, one of the most popular presidents in American history.

The make-or-break importance of this convention as a launching pad for Bush was underscored by his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, who told reporters, “In a very real sense, Thursday night will be the first time that he will be front and center for the American people.”

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