Attacks Pressed by Upbeat Rivals : Quayle Joins Bush at Rally in Tennessee
George Bush, ebullient one day after his debate with Michael S. Dukakis, ridiculed his Democratic opponent Monday, and, with running mate Dan Quayle cheerleading at his side, he aimed another appeal at conservative Democrats and independent voters in the western Tennessee countryside.
The Bush campaign pulled out all the stops in presenting a picture-perfect pep rally for Bush’s first appearance with Quayle in more than a month, offering the nation a view of an upbeat team buoyed by a cheering crowd one day after the confrontation between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in Winston-Salem, N. C.
“One debate down. How’d I do?” the vice president shouted, reveling in the roar of approval that bounced back from the 5,000 or so partisans who had flocked to the rally in this small city.
Tells of Pride in Quayle
With the Democratic campaign pressing Quayle’s presence on the ticket as a potential vulnerability for Bush, the vice president declared at the start of his speech: “I am particularly proud to be standing at the side of my running mate, in whom I have not only confidence but pride.”
The lunchtime rally on a cloudless day at the Casey Jones Village--a frontier-style village and railroad museum--was the centerpiece of a day that took Bush from Winston-Salem, on to Tennessee, then to a barbecue outside Atlanta and, finally, an overnight stop in Cincinnati.
Although outwardly positive throughout the day in his assessment of his debate performance, Bush told reporters as he left the Georgia barbecue: “I think it was kind of about even.”
And, before Bush set out in the morning, his campaign moved quickly to minimize any fallout from his discussion of abortion on Sunday evening. Campaign Chairman James A. Baker III said the vice president, after reflecting overnight, had decided that he would not favor criminal prosecution of women who had abortions even if abortions were made illegal.
The Bush schedule for Monday had been carefully arranged before the debate to present upbeat images of the Republican ticket, regardless of the outcome of the confrontation. Here, and later in Hampton, Ga., Bush and his lieutenants hammered away at what they argue are Dukakis’ vulnerabilities that were brought out in the debate.
Two Different Approaches
“I saw something different last night. Very important. Two different men. Two very different approaches to how we’d solve the problems of America,” Bush said in Jackson. “We cannot gamble with inexperience in the Oval Office.”
Here in this rural mid-South community, where cotton plants crowd close to the Jackson airport runway and football is king, Bush put a seasonal spin on his appeal, telling the appreciative crowd that, at the start of the Reagan Administration, “our economy was in punt formation deep in our end zone.”
Now, he said, “That punt-on-first-down crowd wants to get back in the game. No, thanks. They were the fumble and we are the recovery.”
The only note of dissent came from overhead, where an airplane trailed a banner reading, “Dukakis 1, Bush 0.”
District Backed Reagan
For the focus of the campaigning Monday, the Bush organization picked a congressional district in which President Reagan had won 57% of the vote in 1984, but where the conservative Democratic congressional incumbent, Ed Jones, took 80% of the vote two years ago.
Despite their roots in the Democratic Party, voters in this rural area of western Tennessee, which has a greater number of black voters than any other district in the state, tend to be more independent and conservative than those in the rest of the state, and Bush said he was seeking the support in Tennessee of “Democrats, independents, Republicans.”
Earlier, Quayle’s chartered Boeing 727 jet had aborted a landing at the tiny airport just yards above the runway to avoid hitting a small private airplane that was landing on an intersecting runway. The Quayle plane, coming in just ahead of Bush’s Air Force Two, circled and returned without incident.
Despite the rural South setting of the campaign rally, Bush made no reference to abortion in his speech. The themes of patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance, hallmarks of the campaign, were mentioned only in passing at the Georgia appearance.
What Is ‘Secret Plan’?
In trying to poke holes in Dukakis’ campaign position that he would build up conventional, or non-nuclear weaponry, Bush challenged the Democrat to disclose his plan, demanding: “How much does it cost? What weapons are involved? What is your secret plan, Governor? Give us the secret plan so the American people can decide.”
The joint Bush-Quayle appearance served to increase the visibility of the vice president’s support for his running mate at a time when the 41-year-old senator remains a point of concern for some on Bush’s staff.
Bush, referring to Quayle’s coming debate with Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, declared: “Stay tuned now for a week from Wednesday, and you’re going to see our man in action in that arena, and he’ll do all right. Just fine. You watch.”
Campaign Chairman Baker, in response to a question from a reporter, said that there was no plan to keep the two candidates apart to draw as little attention to Quayle as possible. “None whatsoever,” Baker said.
On Different Tracks
Rather, he said, “it is customary to use both your assets, the presidential and vice presidential nominees, and send them generally off on different tracks so you can cover more ground, reach more voters.”
But another senior Bush staff member, looking ahead to the vice presidential debate, said that “the ‘Q-man’ has a weight on his shoulders"--not committing any costly errors.
On the abortion matter, the Bush staff worked overnight and was prepared shortly after dawn with an amplification.
In the debate, Bush said that, although he was in favor of making most abortions illegal--supporting exceptions only in cases of pregnancies stemming from rape or incest, or in situations in which the mother’s life is threatened--he was uncertain what penalties should be attached to such a crime.
“I haven’t sorted out the penalties,” Bush said Monday night.
Dukakis responded immediately: “I think that what the vice president is saying is that he’s prepared to brand a woman a criminal for making this decision. . . . I don’t think it’s enough to come before the American people who are watching us tonight and say: ‘Well, I haven’t sorted it out.’ ”
Detailed Reply Prepared
By about 7 a.m., Bush and Baker had a more detailed response.
Bush, Baker reported, “does not feel the woman (who undergoes an abortion) should be deemed to be a criminal and should not face criminal penalties.”
“He thinks a woman in a situation like that would be more properly considered an additional victim, perhaps a second victim, and that she would need help and love, not punishment,” Baker told reporters.
Baker said that, in Bush’s view, “it would be more appropriate to aim the penalties at the abortionist.”
The Dukakis campaign, predictably, found as much fault with the clarification as it had with the original comment Sunday.
“On this important matter of principle, the vice president has changed his mind for the fourth time,” Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich said Monday.
For eight years, she said, the Administration “has consistently endorsed a constitutional amendment . . . that would leave states free to impose criminal penalties on women who have abortions. Now, with the election approaching, the vice president is running away from that record.”