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Media Politics : Networks Focus on Gap in Polls : Dukakis Has Hard Time Getting Messages Across

Times Staff Writer

The Michael S. Dukakis campaign may be trying to rally supporters with last-minute appeals, but those messages had a difficult time getting through on television news broadcasts Wednesday night as the Democratic candidate got continuing bad news from the polls.

On a day when Dukakis hammered away at the theme of economic justice, for example, the ABC network led its broadcast with a poll showing Vice President George Bush leading Dukakis 52% to 44%. The network aired film clips of both candidates, but commented that the Democratic candidate was compelled to respond to Republican attacks and could not stick to his latest game plan.

Adding insult to injury, an incredulous sounding Sam Donaldson, the ABC correspondent covering the Democratic campaign, asked Dukakis how he could manage to sound so upbeat amid such bad news in the polls. The film clip showed Dukakis giving a terse, unconvincing answer that things were “improving” and then disappearing into an automobile.

Meanwhile, CBS touched on the friction between Dukakis and the National Rifle Assn., airing a portion of a new radio spot by the NRA attacking the governor’s stand on gun control. Although Dukakis gave a strong response to allegations that he wanted to disarm all Americans, the network pointed out that he favored some kind of handgun registration in the 1970s and that his record on the volatile subject was “unclear.”

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NBC buried its political coverage in the middle of the broadcast, leading instead with news about the trapped California gray whales in Point Barrow, Alaska. The network covered Dukakis’ economic statements but noted that he was continuing to slip behind Bush in the polls.

Stressed Prosperity

Bush’s segment, on the other hand, stressed the themes of economic prosperity and noted the vice president’s continuing lead. The network also aired a portion of a new Bush “attack” commercial that depicts Dukakis as a tax-and-spend politician.

The only bright point for the Democratic ticket came during CBS’ eight-minute interview with vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen, when the Texas senator unloaded on the Republicans for running a campaign with racist overtones.

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However, Bentsen seemed caught off-guard when anchorman Dan Rather asked him why he had appeared so infrequently in public with the Rev. Jesse Jackson during the campaign.

Without responding directly, Bentsen noted that he and Jackson had participated recently in a joint satellite session with college students--although from separate cities. Bentsen also said he planned to appear with Jackson this week. Campaign officials said afterward the event was still tentative because of Jackson’s schedule.

Earlier, the network released a poll indicating that 67% of blacks believed that Bush would do little or nothing for them, while only 13% thought the same of Dukakis.


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