‘Proud Tradition of Closing From Behind’ : Bentsen Invokes Party Comeback Spirit

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to build enthusiasm for a Democratic ticket lagging in the polls, vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen on Saturday invoked the spirit of comebacks past, telling voters all day that it was not too late for a Democratic resurgence.

“Our party has a proud tradition of closing from behind and winning close elections,” he told an AFL-CIO convention here.

In 1968, Bentsen noted, Hubert H. Humphrey had trailed in the polls by 10 points on Oct. 10, yet lost by less than one percentage point. In 1960, he said, John F. Kennedy was elected President after trailing by 8 points with a week to go.

And, he said: “Remember Harry Truman, when the press had written him off? . . . I can still remember that Chicago newspaper saying (Thomas E.) Dewey had won when Harry Truman had taken the whole thing.”


Outwardly Confident

Bentsen, who had earlier spoken at an open-air market in St. Louis and a senior citizens rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., remained outwardly confident throughout the day despite new poll results showing previously undecided voters shifting their support to Vice President George Bush after Thursday’s presidential debate.

But his repeated references to the dramatic Democratic comebacks suggested serious worries in a campaign that not long ago was calling the race a dead heat and insisting that the momentum was on its side.

Disappointment has been evident on the Bentsen campaign plane since Michael S. Dukakis failed to score decisively against Bush in the debate, and although spokesman Mike McCurry insists “we’ve got a lot of time,” the private mood among advisers is considerably more grim.


As the campaign looks toward a three-week comeback bid, Bentsen aides say they believe the Texas senator will play a more active role than he has in recent weeks of campaigning.

Separate Themes

Already, one adviser said, instructions from Boston headquarters that required Bentsen to repeat every day what Dukakis was saying elsewhere have been withdrawn. That should allow Bentsen to attract more news coverage by introducing separate themes, the adviser said.

Another change being considered would allow Bentsen to take the lead in Democratic ridicule of Sen. Dan Quayle, thus deflecting attacks that have criticized Dukakis for “picking on the little guy.”

And Bentsen is tentatively scheduled to spend much of his time--parts of six days in the next two weeks--in California, where Dukakis campaign officials regard him as one of the ticket’s most valuable assets.

Needing loyal audiences to reignite the campaign, Bentsen turned Saturday to senior citizens and union members.

In Wilkes-Barre, located in a county in which some 60% of the population is 65 and over, Bentsen argued that the Reagan Administration has been the enemy of the aged, saying: “I just really can’t imagine someone at the age of Social Security or approaching it who can vote for that other crowd with that kind of attacks on it that’ve been tried time and time again.”

To support the claim, the campaign distributed a list of Republican quotes suggesting antipathy toward Social Security. The handout noted, for example, that in 1966 Ronald Reagan said: “Social Security ought to be voluntary.”


And at the union convention in New York, Bentsen won a roar of applause when he said that for working men and women, “The past eight years have been a wasteland of lost opportunity, shrunken wages and callous indifference.”