President Bush Friday put in a final campaign effort for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, two states where abortion has become a riveting political issue, although he avoided the topic at each of three stops.
Instead, he conducted a rerun in miniature of his own presidential campaign of a year ago, hammering away at the twin themes of higher taxes and crime--both of which the Republican candidates oppose, he assured his audiences.
In addition to the highly sensitive issue of abortion, Bush appears to be avoiding something else in the final days of the 1989 political season: New York City and the underdog mayoral race of Rudolph W. Giuliani.
In Bloomfield, where he campaigned for Rep. Jim Courter, who is running for governor, Bush was but a half-hour west of Manhattan. He chose not to make the trip.
On Sunday, he is expected to visit his mother in southern Connecticut. Again, he is not expected to make the detour into New York on behalf of Giuliani, White House officials said.
Pointing to a presidential trip to New York to campaign for Giuliani in October and visits at the end of the campaign by First Lady Barbara Bush, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner, one Bush aide asked: "Whaddaya want us to do? You want us to live with the guy?"
The year after a presidential election is considered an off-year politically because the only major elections are the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia and the mayor's race in New York City.
But Bush found himself with a difficult political task this year: In campaigning for J. Marshall Coleman in Virginia, Bush found himself opposing L. Douglas Wilder. If successful, Wilder will be the first black elected governor. Similarly, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, David N. Dinkins, would be the first black to serve in that post.
Bush has also faced a second problem in campaigning for GOP candidates this year: Wilder in Virginia and Rep. James J. Florio, the Democrats' candidate in New Jersey, both have drawn political strength from their support for a woman's right to obtain an abortion.
Thus, Bush's visits risked drawing attention to his own opposition to abortion rights and to the restrictions favored by the Republicans--positions that appear to be a drag on the Republican gubernatorial candidates.
In Virginia, according to a Washington Post poll published on Oct. 29, 77% of the likely voters surveyed said that the issue was either fairly important or very important, and 43% of those voters said that it would determine the way they voted. In that group, Wilder led Coleman, by 55% to 37%.
Bush, whose position on abortion has shifted over the last decade, has said that he would allow abortion only in cases in which a continued pregnancy would threaten the life of the mother or when a pregnancy results from rape or incest. He has also said that he opposes the use of federal funds to pay for abortions in the latter two cases, and he vetoed two measures that would have allowed it.
As he ran through his litany of issues--environment, education, crime and taxes--facing voters, Bush left out abortion at all three stops--Norfolk and Richmond in Virginia and Bloomfield--on Friday.
Sounding as though the campaign year was 1988, Bush reminded an audience at Old Dominion University in Norfolk that the candidate he came to praise, Marshall Coleman, "is one candidate who doesn't confuse having a vision for the future with having a sharp eye on your wallets."
And, in New Jersey, it was the familiar issue of drugs and crime--central to his 1988 campaign.
"He knows firsthand what it is to be tough on crime and drugs," Bush said of Courter, referring to the candidate's earlier job as a county prosecutor. "It's about time the other side learn the voters can be hard on politicians who are soft on crime."