By now, it is clear that George Bush has perfected the 1988 political art of mounting a hard-hitting message on his daily traveling campaign billboard. But less visible are the bumps and grinds along the way--like those that appeared as he bounced down the West Coast on Thursday, from a rough-edged union rally in Washington state to the pristine corridors of a California high-tech plant.
As Election Day looms ever closer, Bush is publicly counting the days, hours and minutes remaining until it is known whether he or Democrat Michael S. Dukakis has won. And the pace is turning what has generally been a well-tuned operation into a juggernaut sometimes running just beyond control at the edges.
At each stop down the coast, there was a smiling Bush on the podium, carrying forth his message:
--In the morning, it was one of support from a union and economic prosperity in Tacoma, Wash., to signal the need for open international trade.
More Talk of Trade
--At midday, there was more talk of trade, at the Applied Materials Corp. in Santa Clara, and a sharp criticism of Dukakis for “trying to scare people by putting Japanese flags on . . . television commercials” running in Ohio.
--In the late afternoon, too late for the national TV news shows, the message was one of support for Israel and remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust, delivered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center here.
That’s what was seen at the focal point of the campaign. But just beyond range, and sometimes out of focus, was often a miniature maelstrom as the campaign cocoon hurtled down the coast.
In Tacoma, where the vice president was endorsed by the 50,000-member Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn., two hecklers were arrested--one was given a bloody nose by Tacoma police officers and the other was hauled away in handcuffs--and a third was simply led out of the arena by the officers.
And before that, when another heckler spoke up, a young man wearing a Bush staff identification tag hurried in front of him with a hand-lettered “Bush ’88" sign to hide him from photographers, and the nearby crowd began chanting to drown out his anti-Bush shouts.
Police spokesman Mark Mann said his officers were instructed that “if they saw any blatant violations of the law, they were to take action.”
“We had to look at the problem in a crowd control situation,” he said.
Asked if the heckling threatened the candidate, Mann said: “The peace and dignity of the state of Washington was the victim.”
Campaign crowds are generally screened to guard against disruptions--participants at both Bush and Dukakis rallies must often show tickets to gain admission--and the vice president has encountered relatively few hecklers at his public events.
Although campaign spokeswoman Alixe Glen said “it is not our policy to remove people from events,” local staff members and police officers don’t always get the message. This incident, however, stood out as one of the rougher moments in the campaign.
While Bush was addressing the union members, and the hecklers were being hustled out, the campaign quietly distributed a copy of a letter Dukakis wrote in 1976 opposing the possession of handguns.
Dukakis says he has no objection to the ownership of rifles for use by hunters, but he makes little reference in his campaign speeches to the ownership of handguns. He frequently states that gun control efforts should be directed at the use of Uzi and AK-47 automatic weapons by teen-age drug merchants.
In the letter, to the chairmen of the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety, Dukakis stated:
“Handguns cannot be justified on the grounds that an individual will only choose another lethal weapon if a gun is not available; the use of a handgun in a serious assault is five times as likely to result in the death of the victim than the use of any other weapon.
No Right to Bear Arms
“The possession of a handgun cannot be justified as constitutionally mandated: both the Supreme Judicial Court (of Massachusetts) and the United States Supreme Court have consistently ruled that there is no constitutional right for an individual to bear arms.
“It seems clear to me that the private possession of a handgun must be the exception and the rule must be that no private possession be allowed.”
However, he said that police officers, security guards, and “members of legitimate target shooting associations” should be allowed to own handguns.
That Bob Hope, who has entertained at other Bush events, should lend his home for a campaign reception is not particularly worthy of note. However, a campaign staff briefing paper intended for internal use only made clear the bottom-line reason for the visit: winning the Battle of the Hollywood Glitter.
“The press is allowed in briefly at the beginning to capture the celebrities and the festivities. . . . This event will impact all of California and offset Dukakis’ post-debate Barbra Streisand reception.”
The guest list for the swank garden party represented an A to Z of Hollywood, from Autry (Gene) to Zimbalist (Efrem Jr.), and included Pat Boone, Phyllis Diller, Robert Mitchum, Donald O’Connor, Don Rickles, Jane Russell, and Tom Selleck.
Hope, teasing the vice president, said that in the second presidential debate two weeks ago, “George Bush did so much better than usual, they’re testing him for steroids.”
Bush, faced with an array of Hollywood figures, said: “I’m not going to bore you with all the issues.”
The city of Billings, Mont., is situated on an ancient, dry lake bed in the south-central section of the state. Its airport is on a windy bluff, known as The Rimrocks, overlooking the city, the state’s largest.
The winds were particularly strong Wednesday evening and ushered in the first snowstorm of the season, just after Bush finished a rally at Rocky Mountain College.
And they played havoc with the departure of his Air Force passenger jet and a chartered plane carrying journalists, even before the snow arrived.
The vice president’s four-engine jetliner, a military version of the Boeing 707, returned to the airport parking area after a strong odor of fuel fumes permeated the passenger compartment just before the plane began its takeoff roll. A fire engine rushed up and the vice president’s armored limousine was parked near the front door in case a quick evacuation was ordered.
Winds Blew Back Fumes
After about 15 minutes, it was determined that the heavy winds, rather than an aircraft malfunction, had blown the fumes into the cabin, and the airplane took off without incident.
The press plane, a Boeing 727 chartered from American Trans Air, was delayed for about two hours because the crosswinds were so severe that one engine could not receive enough air to operate, producing a loud, jolting clunk each time the pilot attempted to apply power.
After the third aborted takeoff, members of the press corps, in their own demonstration of democracy, voted overwhelmingly to remain in Billings until they could be assured of a safe takeoff. Twenty minutes later, outvoted by a single pilot, they were hurtling down the runway.