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Dukakis Late in Answering GOP Attacks, Bentsen Says

Times Staff Writer

Democratic vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen appeared to chide his running mate Sunday for not responding sooner to Republican attacks.

Returning home after a post-debate campaign swing in Texas and New Mexico, Bentsen indicated to reporters aboard his plane that he was frustrated that Michael S. Dukakis’ presidential campaign waited until last week to launch a series of TV ads attacking the Republican ticket.

“Where have they been?” Bentsen replied, when asked about the ads’ negative tone. “All in August and September, they should have been out there. Where have they been?”

‘An Absolute Outrage’

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Asked about the ads again later, Bentsen twice repeated that the Boston-based campaign “should have” fought back earlier. He said the Republican “distortion” of Dukakis’ record on crime and defense was “an absolute outrage.”

But the Texas senator shrugged and smiled when asked if he had personally urged Dukakis to fight back earlier, saying he would keep his counsel private.

In the largest media purchase of the campaign, the Dukakis campaign last week began airing four ads called “The Packaging of George Bush.” Two more ads question the fitness of Republican nominee Bush’s running mate, Dan Quayle, and a new series of four ads this week aims at Bush’s record on drugs, environment, health care and crime.

A separate radio ad in Texas defends Dukakis on crime, saying Bush supported a Houston halfway house for felons granted parole or early release. “In 1982, one of those prisoners raped and murdered a minister’s wife,” the ad says. “Only six months later, Bush gave the halfway house President Reagan’s Volunteer of the Year Award.”

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Massachusetts Program Ended

The ad is a clear response to Bush’s attempt to tie Dukakis to the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who fled while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison and later raped a Maryland woman and beat her fiance. Dukakis ended the controversial furlough program for violent criminals earlier this year.

Bentsen returned to his home here with his wife, Beryl Ann, after a three-day campaign swing that allowed him to bask in the glow of his widely praised debate performance Wednesday against Quayle.

On the plane, he relaxed by telling stories of playing poker at his ranch with Texas legends Lyndon B. Johnson and Sam Rayburn, wearing a white silk scarf and “spooking deer” when he commuted to his Texas ranch in an open-cockpit plane in the 1940s, and meeting European leaders in recent years.

Heading for Swing States

Buoyed by his debate performance, Bentsen will head north this week to campaign in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, both swing states where the presidential race remains hotly contested. He will visit the Midwest next week.

Campaign strategists said Bentsen’s appeal and strategic political role probably have grown since the debate. They hope the spotlight will stay on him as Dukakis prepares for his second and final debate with Bush, scheduled for Thursday night in Los Angeles.

“I’m going to talk about the issues,” Bentsen said. “The opposition certainly hasn’t.”

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