Michael S. Dukakis drew boisterous crowds of blue-collar workers across Michigan Tuesday as he punched home a populist message and promised for the first time to end the nation’s stubborn foreign trade deficit within four years.
With his campaign battered by bad news from the pollsters, and three weeks remaining until Election Day, the Democratic presidential nominee is stepping up his schedule while fighting twin demons: Vice President George Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, and the perception that his underdog campaign is tumbling out of contention.
Despite the task, Dukakis’ spirits showed no sign of flagging.
Touring Michigan from Kalamazoo in the south to Saginaw halfway up the lower peninsula, then on to this Detroit suburb to speak to evening-shift workers at the McLouth Steel Corp. plant, Dukakis encountered rousing crowds as he returned to an old-line Democratic Party message.
“George Bush cares about the people on Easy Street. I care about the people on Main Street. He’s on the Easy Street side. I’m on your side,” he said.
“We’ve got to end the Republican rainbow coalition of red ink for our children, pink slips for our workers . . . and golden parachutes for top corporate executives,” Dukakis declared.
The fog and drizzle that greeted Dukakis in Kalamazoo, where he spoke at Western Michigan University, gave way during the morning to clear skies across a landscape of golden birches and maples, and oak leaves turning crimson. Dukakis’ performance matched the autumn weather: sunny, crisp and on-time.
He pegged his attack to today’s anniversary of the 508-point stock market crash a year ago. He blamed the crash on the trade deficit, climbing interest rates and “Republican policies of borrow and spend and borrow and spend.”
“In its first four years alone, this Administration turned two generations of trade surpluses into the world’s largest trade deficit--and cost our workers in this country 5 million jobs. In the first four years of the Dukakis-Bentsen Administration we’re going to turn that trade deficit back into a trade surplus, and reclaim those jobs.”
While Dukakis did not say how he would accomplish this, aides distributed a paper stating he would end the trade deficit by reducing the federal budget deficit; using trade laws to force open foreign markets and thus increase U.S. sales abroad; increasing spending on education, new technologies and new plant equipment to improve the nation’s competitive standing, and “making industrial America number one.”
More May Be Required
Some economists say, however, that eliminating the trade deficit may require more than that, and may not be entirely within the reach of a chief executive acting alone. Aside from putting the domestic budget in order, the new Administration would also have to contend with a variety of international economic problems, some of which are only likely to be solved through extensive negotiations.
In addition, the nation’s low savings rate would have to be increased to finance the investment needed to redesign the industrial base in order to produce goods more efficiently and at lower cost than foreign competitors.
The trade deficit in August grew to $12.2 billion, from $9.5 billion in July, and the deficit for all of 1988 is expected to be approximately $130 billion, down from $170.3 billion in 1987.
Harold B. Malmgren, a former trade official in the Johnson Administration who is now an economic consultant in Washington, expressed skepticism that Dukakis could achieve his goal. He said the trade deficit is already declining and probably will fall to about $80 billion four years from now.
But to speed that process significantly, he said, “you’d have to get a swing in the budget deficit of something like $50 billion a year in each of the next four years, and I don’t know how we’re going to get that.”
Throughout the day Tuesday, Dukakis appeared confident and on the attack. He delivered a tough, impassioned speech in Kalamazoo, and then abandoned his electronic prompter to smoothly ad-lib his way through the same address in Saginaw. And in both cities, he repeated shortened versions to boisterous overflow crowds nearby.
The response throughout the day couldn’t have been better.
“Take your gloves off and hit hard,” called out Lisa Minott, one particularly enthusiastic supporter who repeatedly interrupted his speech in Kalamazoo. And when Dukakis set out to list the differences between himself and Bush, she finished his sentence, singing out: “You’re real and he’s not.”
For two days in two crucial states--first in Ohio, with 23 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, and then in Michigan, with 20 electoral votes--crowds, stirred up by Gov. Richard F. Celeste in Ohio and Gov. James J. Blanchard in Michigan, have been shouting out encouragement to Dukakis. His staff members have cited the governors’ presence as evidence that state politicians are willing to stand by his side.
Celeste was nearly in a frenzy as he warmed up a mostly black audience at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for the Performing and Cultural Arts in Columbus, Ohio, Monday night and sought to counter reports of falling polls.
Sweat dripping from his face, and suspenders over his white shirt, Celeste conveyed the impression of a William Jennings Bryan as he shouted out with evangelical fervor the words to a hymn, and gained the desired shouts of approval: “Only believe, only believe, all things are possible if you only believe.”
For Dukakis, that appearance came nearly 14 hours and three cities after he left Boston, informing his staff in all seriousness after he reviewed the day’s agenda: “I don’t think this schedule is heavy enough.”
As a result, staffers said, they are planning even more hectic schedules in coming days, when he will visit Missouri and Illinois, before heading to New York and then Texas and the South.
The full day Dukakis spent in Michigan--his seventh visit since July--and the attention paid to Michigan by the Republicans reflect the importance both parties put on the state. Staff writer Art Pine in Washington contributed to this story.