With public mutterings about a shrinking lead and nine nerve-racking days to go before voters decide his fate, Vice President George Bush on Sunday was in need of what he calls "a little show-biz."
So on a day in which campaign officials dropped even the pretense of substance, Bush played it heavy on the visuals. The Republican presidential candidate posed with the former archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal John Krol. He ate an Italian lunch with a couple of blue-collar pals. He chatted with the excited brothers of Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda.
He cheered on the troops at Republican headquarters here and sat down in front of the cameras to call three households and urge folks on the other end of the line to vote.
'Some Get-Out-the-Vote Stuff'
"A little show-biz phoning here," he cheerily told one woman. "Just doing some get-out-the-vote stuff," he confided to another.
Bush kept his public appearances at a minimum--he spoke over a microphone for perhaps two minutes to a crowd of campaign workers and answered three questions shouted by reporters--and thus kept his distance from a brewing controversy over a Republican mailer in Maryland that suggested that Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and furloughed prisoner Willie Horton were the "pro-family team" for the Democrats.
Bush campaign chairman James A. Baker III and a former competitor for the GOP nomination, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, denounced the mailer, which drew outraged reaction from Democrats who called it a "racist" appeal. Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. issued a statement Sunday charging that Bush had "created a vicious climate and cynical tone which encourages these attacks."
The flyer--an independent publication of the state's Republican Party--pictured Dukakis and Horton, a black man convicted of murder who raped a white Maryland woman and assaulted her fiance while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison.
"You, your spouse, your children, your parents, and your friends can have the opportunity to receive a visit from someone like Willie Horton if Mike Dukakis becomes President," it stated.
Since Horton was furloughed from prison under Dukakis' state Administration, Bush has cited the case as evidence that Dukakis is soft on crime. Dukakis has responded that the program was inherited from his Republican predecessor, was similar to programs in other states and in the federal prison system and, at any rate, has since been modified to exclude murderers.
Accusations of Racism
Some Democrats have accused the Republicans of racism in their frequent references to the Horton case.
Baker, on the CBS program "Face the Nation," called the flyer "totally out of bounds, totally unauthorized. . . . Republican elected officials in the state of Maryland are disavowing that and clearly we would," Baker added.
Dole, on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the mailer "ought to go in the wastebasket."
"I think if Bush--if he knows about it, should repudiate it," Dole said.
It was unclear whether Bush was aware of the mailer. He did not answer questions about it that were shouted by reporters over the sounds of a military brass band in Norristown. Bush, did, however, respond to Dole's "Meet the Press" comment that Bush's vow not to raise taxes will be a "hard thing to accomplish."
"He knows what I've said and what I believe," Bush told a reporter inside his headquarters here. "First, I've got to win this election."
Bush was keeping things upbeat Sunday, to the extent that he denied what his aides were openly acknowledging--that as the election closes in, polls are showing shrinkage in the spread between Bush and his challenger, Dukakis.
'Not Going to Say Anymore'
"One, I don't think they (the poll reports) are (correct) and two, I'm not going to say anymore about it," he declared outside Krol's Philadelphia mansion, where the men had strolled under an immense maple tree, kicking up fallen, golden leaves as television cameras recorded the scene.
Just moments before, however, Bush's chief of staff, Craig Fuller, said internal polls had shown some "tightening" at the end of last week and emphasized that the campaign is newly determined not to "lose the edge."
The vice president, in his two additional public utterances, dwelt not on the polls but on what will increasingly occupy his attention in the waning days of the campaign: voter turnout.
"From now on it is get out that vote ," Bush told a crowd of campaign workers--and a boisterous legion of Dukakis supporters--outside his Norristown headquarters.
"(If) we get that vote out, I believe we can do it," he added. "And as for Barbara and me, we're going to keep running like we're 10 points back. Nobody is going to outwork us."
Bush's trip to Philadelphia and its suburbs was hastily planned overnight in what aides acknowledged was an attempt to leave the impression that Bush will not let up before Nov. 8, no matter what the polls say.
"Can't deny that," said Bush Press Secretary Sheila Tate, asked if that was the purpose of the trip.
Appealing to Swing Voters
And it was also constructed to appeal visually to the "swing voters" who offer Bush hope for victory in Pennsylvania and other Northeastern and industrial Midwestern states where both political camps have arrayed their forces. Key elements in the loosely knit alliance of swing voters are Roman Catholics, a generally conservative Democratic group, and ethnic Americans who have shown a great affinity for Ronald Reagan's policies.
Bush played to both elements Sunday. First he visited with Krol and took part in a special Sunday Mass with the retired archbishop, Bush's wife, Barbara, and their grandson George P. Bush, who the vice president told reporters was baptized a Catholic.
Then he traveled to Norristown, where he ate a sumptuous Italian lunch with Teresa DeAngelis and her family. DeAngelis hosted similar meals for Bush before the 1980 and 1988 Pennsylvania primaries--and Bush won both contests.
"You brought us luck," Bush told DeAngelis in a toast, clearly hoping some of it would rub off in Pennsylvania, where polls put the race within his grasp.
Outside the DeAngelis family's house, which is attached to the family-run auto garage, Bush was greeted by Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda's brothers--Harry, Eddie and Morris. Lasorda himself was raised in Norristown.
sh 'Do It Like the Dodgers'
"We're running, I keep telling these guys, like we're 10 (points) back," Bush told the brothers in a World Series-laced conversation. " . . . We do it like the Dodgers did. It's the only way to do it."
Bush's visit, replete with motorcade and three press buses, drew bemused looks from townspeople and a rebuke from DeAngelis' neighbor, 75-year-old Mildred Hack.
"I think it's terrible the way they're carrying on on TV, fighting like kindergartners," she sniffed of Bush and Dukakis.
But she intends to vote for Bush anyway. "I just like the man," she said, shrugging her shoulders.