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Bush Gets Through Speech to Hard Hats Without Interruption--Boos or Applause

Times Staff Writer

Contrasted with George Bush’s previous encounter with a large group of hard hats--the shipyard workers in Portland, Ore., who interrupted his speech last week with thunderous boos--his visit to the grimy Buckeye Steel foundry Friday could be considered a big hit.

To be sure, as the vice president--a blue sports jacket over his white shirt and red tie--looked over the crowd, there were a few guys wearing grease-stained once-white T-shirts bearing the name of his opponent in bold blue letters: DUKAKIS.

And there was electrician Paul Nibert, a retired Air Force man, willing to tell anyone who asked: “I’m a hard Democrat--I always have been and I probably always will be.” He is not, he made it clear, a Bush voter.

Attacks Dukakis Again

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Nevertheless, Bush got through his stump speech, featuring a freshly honed attack on Michael S. Dukakis’ weeklong focus on defense issues, without interruption--for applause or hoots--at a steel mill at which his grandfather worked, as president, 80 years ago.

“Admittedly, the applause meter didn’t go off the chart, but nor did the boo meter go off the chart, and these days we measure things by both counts,” the vice president said after the visit, one of just a few appearances by Bush this week before a group not made up of carefully selected supporters.

Seeking to cast doubt on Dukakis’ stepped-up emphasis on strengthened defense, Bush told the workers: “This is not the time to elect a man who has opposed every weapon system that has come along.”

Dukakis this week reiterated his opposition to the rail-mobile MX missile, which he contends would be vulnerable to surprise attack if kept at an unsheltered base too long, but in a defense issues speech in Washington, he presented a long list of modern weapons he favors deploying, including the Trident 2 submarine-based missile, the stealth bomber, an advanced cruise missile designed to elude detection by flying at low altitudes and the SSN-21 Sea Wolf attack submarine. And on Tuesday, he rode in a tank in Michigan to punctuate his defense message.

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‘He’s Been Made Over’

The vice president, at a news conference after his speech Friday, argued that Dukakis had found that his defense policy was not selling, “so now he’s been made over.”

“He’s now trying to say that the man who has opposed every . . . new weapon system somehow belongs in a tank gunner’s helmet,” Bush said.

“The tank didn’t fit,” the vice president cracked. “It’s time to take another message to Michael and it’s very straightforward: You cannot fool the Soviet leadership by knocking America’s defense for 10 years and then riding around in a tank for 10 minutes. And more important for the election, you can’t fool the American people.”

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The news conference was the first Bush has held in 13 days. To the suggestion that senior campaign officials did not want him to talk to reporters, he said such cautions came not from campaign chief James A. Baker III but from “some low-level hand-wringers who think I’m going to screw it up.”

Verbal Gaffe

And, at the end of a five-day trip that took him across the country and back, he indeed made a verbal gaffe:

“I hope I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism, anti-racism,” he said, in a moment made all the more embarrassing by the departure over the past week of seven members of a campaign ethnic coalition and a key executive of the Republican National Committee after it was charged that they had connections to anti-Semitic behavior or had belonged to a fascist group.

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During the “First Annual Flag Festival” in front of the flag-bedecked front porch of an Elks lodge in Findlay, Ohio, which calls itself Flag City, U.S.A., he wound up a paraphrased recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by saying “with freedom and justice for all,” rather than “liberty and justice.”

Campaign press secretary Sheila Tate said later that Bush “was purposefully paraphrasing the Pledge of Allegiance,” and produced his speech note cards as evidence. They contained the words he spoke.

For the vice president, there was no letup in his use of the flag and patriotism as a campaign symbol:

He told his audience in Findlay that he has seen the flag flying around the world.

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‘America Is Flag City’

“I’ve saluted it going to war and I’ve saluted it in peace,” he said. “The flag is back, not only here, but around our great country. Today, America is flag city.”

Later, he attended the dedication of a memorial to airmen missing in action, at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

The stop in Dayton was considered one of his official duties as vice president and he avoided any directly partisan language while delivering much the same muscular defense message that is a favored campaign theme.

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“Let us resolve today that America itself must never become POW--prisoner of weakness. Because it is weakness that leads to war and war that leads to the circumstances that we remember here today.”

Although Bush will press ahead with a travel schedule that will keep him on the road at least three days next week, his focus already is shifting toward the first of the two debates with Dukakis, scheduled for Sept. 25 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Approach for First Debate

Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force Two as he flew to Ohio from San Francisco on Thursday evening, Bush indicated that his approach in the debate would be to try to present the national audience with a view of just who George Bush is, much as he sought to do in his speech at the Republican National Convention last month.

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Asked whether his strategy was to project himself “as a person,” he replied: “I think that’s important. What I’d like the bottom line to be is that I come out for what I am, warts and all.”

“It’s important to be saying what you feel in your heart, rather than reeling off some statistics,” he said.

But, he was asked, are any barbed lines being prepared? “Working overtime on that,” he replied.

And he warned that, if Dukakis approaches him in a confrontational manner, “the laser will be unleashed.”

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With the campaign trying to lower expectations for the debate--and thus minimize the damage if Bush does poorly--Bush said he does not view the event as “make or break.”

Bursting into song, of sorts, he said, or sang: “Remember Annie--Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. There will be a lot of tomorrows.”

Then, by way of spoken explanation, he added: “It’s important, but you don’t wipe out years of experience with one show-biz performance.”


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