Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis said Monday that he hopes voters will focus on Republican nominee George Bush’s choice of running mate Dan Quayle as a critical issue as the long 1988 presidential campaign moves into its final week.
In an interview with editors of the Los Angeles Times, Dukakis said he wants undecided voters “to look at these two tickets” rather than just the two presidential candidates. “The person I selected, and the person Mr. Bush selected, was really our first presidential decision, and in many ways our first national security decision,” he said.
Noting that three vice presidents have risen to the Oval Office since World War II, Dukakis added: “I want them to look at these two tickets as themselves. . . . Which one of these two tickets understands our concerns and is prepared to do the kinds of things that will respond to the real needs and hopes and dreams of average Americans across this country?”
With polls showing that Quayle remains a drag on the Republican ticket, Dukakis aides said this week they will intensify efforts to raise doubts about the abilities and judgment of the Indiana senator who, they invariably point out, would be a “heart-beat away from the presidency.”
Dukakis insisted in the 50-minute interview that despite criticism, his campaign has given voters a “pretty good sense of what my priorities are” and what he would seek to achieve as President. He said Bush’s attacks on him “almost without exception (were) misrepresentations and distortions.”
“When you take the cover off of Mr. Bush, there’s nothing there other than criticism of Michael Dukakis,” Dukakis said.
The Massachusetts governor also defended his belated embrace on Sunday of what he had called the “liberal tradition” represented by Democratic Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy.
“Those presidents were great innovators,” Dukakis said. “They looked forward. . . . They weren’t satisfied with the status quo. They had a strong sense of concern for citizens, a strong concern for families, an appreciation that you have to balance budgets and be fiscally responsible.”
But he said he objects to “the Republicans and Mr. Bush in particular” using liberalism “as a label for people without values, without standards, with a kind of permissiveness. I think that’s a kind of perversion of the term. Anybody who knows me knows I feel very strongly about values and standards and ethics.”
Some polls show Dukakis’ underdog campaign gained ground last week thanks in part to a traditional, “us versus them” populist message that aides say is helping woo elderly New Deal Democrats back to the party. Dukakis, who avoided using even the word liberal for months, acknowledged that he may have erred by not pushing that message sooner.
“Part of it has to do with the fact that the campaign after the convention is a very different one from the one before the convention,” Dukakis said. “The primary campaign was an extension of the kind of campaigning one normally does, pretty open, informal, not that different. Once you get that nomination, you realize it’s a completely different environment. It took me a while to appreciate that and understand it.”
Dukakis also acknowledged his difficulty fighting Bush’s attacks after the Republican convention in August. “If you begin responding in kind early, then it’s almost impossible to give people any sense of who you are, what you believe in, what your priorities are,” Dukakis said. “If you respond too late, the damage is done.”
More Direct Campaigning
Dukakis attributed his movement in polls to a decision in mid-October to let him campaign more directly and more informally with voters. He has held three “town meetings,” unscripted, televised question-and-answer sessions with supporters, and met with small groups of families to discuss their problems.
He also has appeared on a series of network TV interviews that aides say help him take his case directly to the voters. He will speak in a five-minute paid advertisement tonight on NBC network television, his third such ad.
“I think it’s taken a while for us to appreciate just how important it was for me to do that, and to give people a sense of who I am, what I care about and what kind of person I am,” he said. “Mr. Bush has done a better job of painting that picture than I have.”
Dukakis also said he agreed with his running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, for criticizing what the questioner had called a “racist” appeal in the Bush campaign. “When the Southern regional coordinator of your opponent says they’re going to drive Dukakis so far left he’s going to be to the left of collard greens, black-eyed peas and strip-row cotton, you know that’s not very subtle,” Dukakis said. “Mr. Bush has to take responsibility for that.” He was referring to a statement in September by Bush aide Chris Henick.
The interview came as Dukakis wrapped up a three-day campaign swing to California that saw the usually cool candidate warm considerably. Starting the day with a rally at San Jose State University, Dukakis shed his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves, spoke with rare emotion in his voice and plunged repeatedly into the overflow crowd of several thousand cheering supporters to shake outstretched hands.
“I’m fired up,” he told reporters later.
See Gain in Polls
Dukakis aides say they hope that new national polls this week will show the race tightening into low single digits. The aides say Dukakis has succeeded in arresting his slide by grabbing voters’ attention two weeks ago by blaming Bush for the negative tone of the election, and then turning quickly to offer a traditional populist pitch.
Dukakis used that pitch to appeal to women at San Jose. Bush, he said, has been “on the wrong side of every issue of special importance to American women.”
“If you think women should earn more than 65 cents for every dollar a man is paid, then we’re on your side,” he said. ". . . If you think the minimum wage should be a living wage, not a poverty wage, then we’re on your side.”
Dukakis made the same argument on issues of health care, child care, parental leave and college education. But it was abortion, that most sensitive and taboo of political topics, that won him the louded roars of approval.
“Mr. Bush wants the government to make one of the most personal choices a woman can make,” Dukakis said. “If you can believe this, last week Dan Quayle told a 12-year-old girl that even if she were raped by her father and became pregnant, the government had a right to force her to bear that child.”
Quayle’s statement came in response to a question by a teen reporter for Children’s Express, a children’s news service.
Later, at a boisterous outdoor rally at Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, Dukakis said the abortion issue was “one of the reasons we don’t want George Bush and Dan Quayle to appoint new justices to the Supreme Court.”