Confident Republicans gloated today over George Bush’s Nov. 8 prospects on the wings of a highly acclaimed debate performance. Democrat Michael S. Dukakis conceded, “The road ahead of us is going to be tough.”
The vice president rested after his debate-night labors, but his seconds decreed that victory was within reach.
Said Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, once Bush’s harshest primary campaign critic: “It seems to me George Bush is going to win this election and he’s going to win it by a big margin, particularly in the Electoral College.”
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) told a television interviewer on NBC, “If I were working for Michael Dukakis, I’d be sending out resumes this morning.”
Quayle Chimes In
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), the man who would be vice president, also touted Bush’s performance and took a shot at Dukakis. He said the Democrat lacked the “common courtesy” to say something nice about Bush when given an invitation to do so by a debate questioner.
Dukakis was up early for a rare joint appearance with former primary opponent Jesse Jackson in Los Angeles and had a rally with vice presidential running mate Lloyd Bentsen arranged for later in the day in Sacramento.
“We have 25 days” to Election Day, he said at the breakfast meeting with Jackson, “25 of the most important days in the political history of this country.” He said Bush’s campaign use of Willie Horton, a Massachusetts prisoner who escaped while on furlough and brutalized a Maryland couple, was an effort to “divert attention” from the vice president’s own “pathetic” record on drugs and crime.
No Victory Claims
Unlike his ebullient self in the days after the first campaign debate Sept. 25, this time Dukakis offered no immediate claim of victory in Thursday night’s encounter at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
But he refused to concede anything to either Bush or the experts. Dukakis told a crowd of largely black supporters in Los Angeles that he intended to win the election by winning over undecided voters.
Senior Dukakis aide John Sasso acknowledged, “We’re down a little bit, there’s no question about that.”
He said the Massachusetts governor “scored with the undecided and swing voters last evening,” in the second and final presidential debate of the campaign. “That’s what we were looking for.”
Sasso conceded that the Democrat trails in the polls, but he said, “It’s well within range” and announced new television advertisements featuring the candidate talking in his shirt sleeves about campaign concerns.
Difficult Days Ahead
There was little to argue with Dukakis’ own post-mortem that the final 25 days would be tough for him and the Democrats.
He went into the debate at least slightly behind in most public opinion polls, facing an even larger apparent deficit in the Electoral College and needing a breakthrough to transform the race in the final three weeks.
Not even his aides claimed he scored a knockout in the debate.
And polls taken immediately after the debate--90 minutes of gentlemanly jabbing in which Bush stood firm and Dukakis often seemed flat and subdued--gave the vice president a clear victory.
Republicans were swift to claim victory after the clash.
Bush campaign chairman James A. Baker III said Bush “clearly won” the debate.
He said that Dukakis faced a seemingly impossible task--to appear more likable to the voters and at the same time attack Bush. “So it was a very difficult situation for him, I think. And it enabled the vice president, pretty much, to keep him on the defensive for most of the evening.”