Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis, his voice hoarse and his mood upbeat, fought all day Friday to give his underdog campaign the boost that his debate against George Bush did not.
From a black church in South-Central Los Angeles, to the sunny state Capitol steps in Sacramento, to a rain-soaked rally in Seattle, and in new TV ads, Dukakis warned darkly of a Republican future as he attempted to win undecided voters in the campaign’s final 3 1/2 weeks.
The Democratic campaign pulled out all the stops at the lunchtime rally on the Capitol steps--balloons, crowds and bands--and brought along vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen to bash Bush’s record on crime and the environment.
“The fact is that my record on drugs and crime is one of the best in the country and (Bush’s) is pathetic,” Dukakis said.
Hammer at Quayle
The candidates hammered at what polls still show as a weakness for Bush--his running mate, Dan Quayle. And Dukakis warned that another Republican Administration would fill the federal bench with arch-conservatives.
“A Supreme Court full of Robert Borks,” he told several thousand flag-waving supporters on the Capitol lawn. “Turning the clock back on civil rights. On the right to privacy. On equal justice and equal opportunity under the law.”
“And think of where we’ll be with a war on drugs that’s led, if that’s the right word, by Dan Quayle,” he added.
Despite polls indicating that Bush effectively “won” the second and final debate, Dukakis said the first debate at Winston-Salem, N. C., was “strike one for Mr. Bush” and the Quayle-Bentsen debate in Omaha was “strike two.”
“And last night, here in California--well, you be the umpire,” he said, waving his arms. The crowd cheerfully called out, “Strike three.”
“I don’t have to tell the people of the state that’s going to be the home of the next world champions what three strikes means,” he added. “You’re out.”
And in what promises to be a recurrent theme for the Democrats, Bentsen warned: “George Bush is dangerous for your future.”
Bentsen made a nearly eight-hour detour on a trip from Houston to St. Louis to speak for seven minutes in Sacramento. He and Dukakis later spoke to a group of black legislators and supporters inside the Capitol.
“Willie Brown thinks I’m a little dull,” Bentsen said, referring to the Assembly Speaker. “The problem I’ve got with Mike Dukakis is he thinks I’m too flamboyant.” The crowd erupted in laughter.
But for all the good humor, punchy rhetoric and even the fighting spirit the candidates evoked, Dukakis and Bentsen staffers acknowledged that Dukakis failed to get the lift from the debate that could help him chip away at Bush’s lead in polls.
Campaign aides denied that Dukakis had been hurt in the debate, and insisted that he had accomplished his goal of appearing “warm” and the candidate for positive change.
New Television Ads
Focusing on “warmer” Dukakis, the campaign unveiled two new television commercials Friday. They show Dukakis talking directly into the camera, and are replacing a series of ads the campaign has run the last two weeks attacking Bush.
“Our best messenger is our candidate,” campaign vice chairman John Sasso explained at a morning press briefing. “We’re going to put him on the screens talking directly to the American people.”
In one ad, Dukakis sits on a couch with his sleeves rolled up. “It’s been a few years since Kitty and I had children in school,” he says as the camera moves steadily closer. Parents back then, he says, did not have to worry about day care and drugs.
“But if I were a young father today, I’d want to know that my government wasn’t blind to the changes in my life. I’d want my new President to be in touch with the things that are important to me and my family. That’s not a Democratic concern. That’s not a Republican concern. But a father’s concern.”
The other ad is less upbeat, saying that in international markets and education, the nation has fallen behind. “Instead of looking for new answers, we went with the old ones,” Dukakis says.
Sasso said the Dukakis organization would probably spend $13 million to $14 million on advertising before the election.
In a separate interview, campaign manager Susan Estrich acknowledged that the campaign had to counter the perception that a Bush victory now appears increasingly likely.
“We have to fight the inevitability argument,” she said. “I don’t think the American people think the election has been decided.”
Aboard the campaign’s chartered jet Friday morning, Kitty Dukakis, the candidate’s wife, said she found the opening question of the debate--whether Dukakis would drop his opposition to the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered--was “inappropriate.”
“Personalizing that issue cheapens it,” she told reporters, adding that she found the question “shocking.”
Dukakis began and ended the day, which took him up the Pacific Coast to the afternoon rally in Seattle, in Southern California. He attended a meeting of community organizations at Pasadena City College Friday night and was then scheduled to attend a birthday party for former Democratic rival Jesse Jackson.
Early in the morning, he and Jackson spoke with black religious leaders at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in South-Central Los Angeles. Dukakis attacked one of the key issues that Bush has used against him, that of prison furloughs granted in Massachusetts--specifically the one granted to Willie Horton, a murderer who raped a woman and attacked her husband while on leave from a Massachusetts prison.
“That was a terrible human tragedy. I accepted responsibility for it as a chief executive . . . and we changed the policy,” Dukakis said.
But, he said, when a prisoner left a federal program on a furlough and raped and murdered a woman, Bush took no responsibility. Dukakis campaign Press Secretary Dayton Duncan later identified the woman as Patricia Pedrin, a mother of two, who, he said, was raped and murdered on Feb. 1, 1987, by Angel Medrano, who had been free on a weekend pass from a halfway house in Tucson.
Jackson, whose support for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket has appeared lukewarm at times, left little doubt about his support Friday.
“The operative word is work,” he said. “The ball is in our court, workers. Work while there is time to work.
“There is hope in Michael Dukakis,” he said.