Taking grim pleasure in a harsh new campaign strategy, Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen pressed his effort Wednesday to persuade voters that Republican tactics were deceptive and had sullied the presidential campaign.
Ruing “one of the poorest excuses for a national campaign that I can remember,” Bentsen charged that Vice President George Bush and his advisers had “reduced the caliber of (the contest) to that of a mud-wrestling festival out at the Cow Palace.”
The Texas senator told 600 students in a Stanford University auditorium that the Republicans had “force-fed sound bites to the evening news and laughed behind the backs of voters demanding some honesty about America’s future.”
Denounces New Ad
Saying he wanted to “get something off my chest,” Bentsen later convened a session with reporters to denounce as a “lie” a new Republican advertisement that mocks Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis for riding in a tank and suggests that he opposed all U.S. weapons systems.
Angrily waving a telefaxed transcript of the advertisement, Bentsen said: “I really wish George Bush would just call (media adviser) Roger Ailes and tell him to cut it out.”
Bentsen first unleashed his attack on Republican tactics Tuesday in Los Angeles.
“This is my idea,” he insisted. “It is not something I was asked to do.”
Bentsen acknowledged that Republicans will “score a point” if they can keep the Democratic ticket on the defensive until the election. And his chief of staff, Joseph O’Neill, insisted that the campaign would not stoop to “tit for tat” and said Dukakis and Bentsen would continue to “pound home the positive message” in the 19 remaining days of the campaign.
But both the Texas senator and his advisers said repeatedly that they believed the Bush campaign had “crossed the line” of acceptable behavior, making it imperative that the Democrats had to swing back. And they held out the hope that the “outrageous” Republican tactics could emerge as the decisive issue that might turn the presidential race around.
Offers a Prediction
Any history of a Democratic comeback, O’Neill predicted, would record as central the fact that “the American people finally got fed up . . . they’ll vote against negative campaigning.”
In his Stanford speech, Bentsen promised that he would in the days ahead offset the Republican tendency to “bend the truth into a pretzel.” He began by accusing Bush of refusing to own up to his support of offshore drilling and of distorting Dukakis’ record of environmental protection in Massachusetts.
“They’ve been dumping in the Boston Harbor since a group of patriots went down one night and threw some tea overboard. . . , " Bentsen said. “Mike Dukakis is the first governor of that commonwealth to do something about cleaning up that mess.”
Despite depressing news from a new California Poll survey showing the Democratic ticket trailing by 9 points, Bentsen declared: “If we give it everything we’ve got, we’re going to tell the experts to eat a little crow on Nov. 9. And we may let them eat a little quail as well.” The overflow crowd roared in delight at the obvious reference to Bentsen’s Republican counterpart, Dan Quayle.
Speaking a year after the stock market plunged more than 500 points in a day, Bentsen also found a convenient metaphor on a campus whose most visible landmark is a building named after former President Herbert Hoover.
“Today is the anniversary of Black Monday. . . ,” he said. “That’s easy to remember when you’re standing in the shadow of Hoover Tower. And the reminder of that painful moment a year ago also serves as a warning that the nation’s economy still hovers precariously in the shadow of a mountain of international and domestic debt.”