President Reagan, in a dramatic departure from the past, Wednesday heaped lavish praise on Vice President George Bush, calling the Republican presidential nominee a man of “vision,” “strength” and “true grit.”
Apparently confident that Bush will hold his lead in public opinion polls over Democratic rival Michael S. Dukakis, Reagan declared that the Democrats’ campaign was “starting to fall apart” and predicted a Bush victory in three weeks.
James A. Baker III, Bush’s campaign chairman, who was traveling with Reagan Wednesday, rejected the notion that Reagan’s comments reflected overconfidence on the Bush campaign. Aboard Air Force One, Baker told reporters that Bush was “going to continue to campaign like he is 17 to 18 points behind.”
Break Democratic Hold
Nevertheless, heartened by the prospect of a GOP presidential victory, Reagan, during a campaign swing through Columbus, Bowling Green and Cincinnati, Ohio, stepped up his effort to break the Democratic hold on the two houses of Congress in order to sweeten the victory.
But as he increases his campaigning for congressional candidates, Reagan--whose Wednesday appearance was, for the first time, paid for by the Bush campaign--runs the risk of alienating Bush strategists who feel he should continue to devote more attention to Bush.
Worried about offending the campaign, Reagan deleted from his Bowling Green speech two sentences referring to “a second front” whose mission would be to elect Republicans to Congress to enhance the power of a GOP presidency.
Later, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan removed the offending sentences because “he didn’t want to inadvertently give any suggestion that the focus was changing from the election of George Bush.”
Ever since his lukewarm endorsement of Bush last May, Reagan has failed to extol the personal qualifications of Bush, focusing instead on his resume and on the notion that Bush would continue policies of the last eight years.
But Wednesday, Reagan painted his warmest picture to date of Bush, laying on one glowing adjective after another.
Describing Bush as “a man that I know personally,” Reagan, at a courthouse rally in Bowling Green, called the vice president “strong, decent, loyal, wise, capable and compassionate, a man who has qualities necessary to fill the office of President.”
That description contrasted sharply with Reagan’s chilly endorsement of Bush on May 11, when he omitted such personal praise, simply telling a congressional fund-raising dinner that he would “work as hard as I can to make” Bush the next President.
The next day, expressing surprise at the flood of reaction--both inside and outside his party--to his passionless endorsement, Reagan called Bush “a partner in all we have accomplished” during two Administrations and restated his commitment to Bush’s candidacy. But, again, he failed to emphasize any personal strengths in Bush.
Moreover, in his surrogate campaign appearances, Reagan usually spends more time praising Bush as a vice president than as a potential President.
Bush ‘Is That Man’
That changed Wednesday as Reagan, in Bowling Green, said he knew “what is required of the man at the desk” in the Oval Office, declaring that Bush “is that man.”
Here for his third and final speech of the day, Reagan continued his daylong appeal for the support of GOP congressional candidates. Campaigning for Senate candidate George Voinovich, the Cleveland mayor who is trying to unseat liberal incumbent Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), Reagan repeatedly linked the policies of Bush and Voinovich and told the audience at a fund-raising dinner that Bush and Voinovich are “the two best Georges in the business.”
Earlier, in Columbus addressing a boisterous Ohio State University crowd that was mostly friendly but included some persistent hecklers, Reagan asserted that he could have accomplished more as President “if both Houses (of Congress) had been friendly.”