If projecting an image of a feisty underdog is going to help Michael S. Dukakis close in on George Bush, the Democratic candidate got some help Wednesday night.
The national TV newscasts depicted a shirt-sleeved, freshly animated Dukakis fighting back and coming back--at least, in a couple of new polls, ostensibly narrowing the double-digit lead held by George Bush only days ago.
ABC and CBS topped their programs with the Democratic presidential nominee waving a Republican flyer and telling a sun-splashed Illinois crowd that its soft-on-crime attack against him was “garbage.”
NBC took 15 minutes getting to the presidential contest--dwelling first on items ranging from nuclear safety to the marital woes of a heavyweight boxer--but it also focused on the strike-back tactics of both Dukakis and his vice presidential running mate, Lloyd Bentsen.
NBC showed Bentsen in California protesting that a new Bush commercial accusing Dukakis of being weak on defense was a “gross distortion.”
When the newscasts shifted the spotlight to Bush, he was getting endorsements from a pair of key Republicans.
Ford Offers Support
With beaming cheerleaders for backdrops, Bush and former President Gerald R. Ford stood on a Michigan stage with arms around each other. Echoing a GOP ad, Ford said he would like to have Bush negotiating with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
ABC’s Brit Hume, noting that the audience was “a large all-white crowd” on a suburban Detroit college campus, said that Bush’s advance team had steered the candidate away from less friendly audiences in center cities.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Ohio, President Reagan gave his vice president a boost by suggesting that the campaign was all but over.
On the trail in Missouri, ABC’s boisterous White House correspondent Sam Donaldson scored a sound-bite scoop of sorts by accosting Dukakis as he waved to spectators through the open window of a moving bus. Had Dukakis read that convicted killer Willie Horton, who brutally assaulted a Maryland couple when on weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison, said he wanted to vote for the Bay State governor?
“He can’t vote, Sam,” Dukakis shot back.
In another segment, ABC’s Richard Threlkeld took both campaigns to task for misleading advertisements. A Dukakis spot, for example, accuses Bush, in his role as vice president, of casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to “cut” Social Security benefits. Actually, the report noted, the issue was whether to “freeze” cost-of-living increases.
ABC said a new ABC/Washington Post poll gave Bush a 52%-45% lead over Dukakis and indicated that the last debate between them had not made much of a difference in the fortunes of either candidate. NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw said that this poll and a nine-point Bush lead in a new Louis Harris survey indicated that Dukakis was closing the gap.
One national poll earlier this week said Bush had a 17-point lead.
Both Brokaw and CBS anchorman Dan Rather felt compelled to give prominent mention to an unfounded rumor that the Washington Post planned to publish a story today on Bush’s personal life. The rumor sent stocks tumbling on the first anniversary of last October’s stock market crash. Rather noted that the Post had taken the extraordinary step of announcing that it planned no such story.