Wilson Begins His Race With Bursts of Anger, Tough Language : Politics: Governor’s coast-to-coast campaign tour displays themes aimed at discontented electorate. ‘Individual responsibility’ is stressed.


This was the week America formally met California’s Gov. Tough Guy.

On a coast-to-coast campaign tour that ended Friday in Los Angeles, Pete Wilson introduced himself as the presidential candidate who is sick and tired of people who only want to whine about their problems when nobody said life was supposed to be easy.

He told audiences in New Hampshire, Florida and Iowa that he has had it with those out-of-control Washington bureaucrats who are more likely to cause America’s problems than solve them.

He offered his campaign as a vehicle for “every American with the courage and the character to accept individual responsibility.”


And he made it clear that he is willing to surround his White House bid with high emotions by drawing out the anger of segments of the public with his blunt commentary on sensitive and divisive issues. Wilson even taunted some demonstrators at his appearance in Buffalo, N.Y., telling the group Tuesday that its numbers were “disappointingly small.”

To be sure, Wilson’s angry words did not stray far from politically safe targets for a Republican primary candidate--his fire was aimed mainly at welfare recipients, illegal immigrants and criminals.

He also sought to use to his advantage the protests that have followed him on the GOP campaign trail since his call for an end to affirmative action programs became a cornerstone of his candidacy.

He told a business group in Atlanta on Wednesday: “If you lack the guts to recognize and deal with a practice that is so clearly unfair . . . then you are not fit to be President of the United States. Our forefathers didn’t come to this land . . . so that we could wring our hands in despair but so we can use our hands and our hearts and minds to fulfill the obligation that comes with the gift of liberty.”

The tough language and macho bravado Wilson displayed on his campaign’s kickoff tour underscored a theme the governor hopes will pave his way to victory next year.

Wilson wants to sound as angry as polls indicate that a growing number of Americans feel, especially regarding the country’s political system.


The governor’s strategists planned the national tour, which began Monday in New York, as an introduction for Wilson in a number of states where he is little known and where his campaign lags behind the leaders in the GOP race, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.

Traveling on a blue-and-gold chartered 727 jet called Champion Air, Wilson’s campaign stopped in seven states representing four different regions of the country.

It was a trip that had ups and downs, beginning in New Hampshire with an airport landing that frightened even the most veteran campaign fliers.

Later, in Florida, Wilson was forced to stray from his prepared remarks about immigration when the TelePrompTer he used almost every day went blank in mid-speech. And in Iowa on Thursday, Wilson canceled an appearance after his motorcade was involved in a minor car accident.

Wilson’s white Lincoln Continental was stopped at a street light when two cars collided in the intersection, one of which slightly bumped the governor’s car. Wilson ran from his car to aid one crash victim, counseling her to remain calm until an ambulance arrived about 10 minutes later.

Wilson’s crowds were moderately sized, but campaign officials were heartened that many of those who heard his message for the first time said they left with favorable impressions.



“You see a whole different charisma around this campaign than you do with the people around Dole--and I’ve seen them both,” said Tom Green, an insurance consultant in Atlanta. “I think [Wilson’s] a lot more rounded than Sen. Dole--he’s been a mayor, a U.S. senator and a governor.”

Wilson devoted each day of his tour to a different issue that will make up the campaign’s core messages. In the South, he talked about affirmative action and illegal immigration. In Iowa, the governor talked about welfare reform at a hospital for teen-age mothers. And in the Northeast, he highlighted his record on crime.

In each speech, though, Wilson directed his comments at the middle-class Americans who believe that their lives have grown more difficult.

The governor used harsh language to discuss those he blamed for the problems. In Philadelphia, for example, he referred to criminals as “animals.” And in New York, he called Washington bureaucrats “federal tyrants.”

On the other hand, he emphasized his sympathy and support for those who, as he put it, “work hard, pay their taxes and raise their children to obey the law.”

Wilson strategist Ken Khachigian said the theme “is a recognition that life for the average folks in this country is a real struggle--and that’s for folks who make $25,000 a year and it’s for two-income families making $100,000 a year.


“For millions and millions of people, whether it is a farmer fighting regulations or a cab driver trying to get through traffic, it really doesn’t matter,” Khachigian said. “A lot of these folks sense that the world is working against them a lot of the time.”

Khachigian said Wilson’s message sought to provide a “voice of the middle class and the forgotten American.” And like the governor, he dismissed the notion that the policies the candidate advocates are a heartless treatment of the nation’s disadvantaged.

“It’s not heartless in the least,” Khachigian said. “I call it honesty.”

In Philadelphia, Wilson outlined a new proposal designed to put more police officers on the street. The idea would allow taxpayers to check a box on their federal income tax returns designating 1% of their tax bill for local law enforcement.

If everyone checked the box, Wilson officials said, it would generate about $6.5 billion that would be diverted from the federal budget to local police efforts. They said Wilson would cut the federal budget by whatever amount was necessary to balance the local grants so that they would not increase the federal budget deficit. The aides did not describe how they plan to cut the budget.

Also in Philadelphia, Wilson stepped into a raging controversy concerning the murder conviction and death sentence in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and black activist. Civil rights leaders throughout the world, as well as a cadre of Hollywood celebrities, have rallied around Abu-Jamal’s cause, charging that his conviction for killing a police officer was tainted by suppression of evidence.

A judge recently delayed Abu-Jamal’s execution to allow a motion for retrial. Appearing at the headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia, Wilson complained about Abu-Jamal’s defenders.


“I am sick and tired of a corrupt culture more interested in honoring the perpetrators of crime than the victims of it,” Wilson said. “It may be radical chic to support cop killers, but justice demands that they are held accountable.”


Wilson also sided with the police who are involved in two controversies this week--in Philadelphia, where half a dozen officers are accused of committing crimes and framing others, and in Los Angeles, where tape recordings of racist comments by former Detective Mark Fuhrman were released as part of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

In both cases, the governor said the misbehavior of a few bad apples should not reflect on the others in those departments.

“We can’t tolerate bad cops,” Wilson said Friday at the Los Angeles Police Academy. “But it makes my stomach turn to see some lawyer from the [American Civil Liberties Union] making the rounds to the TV talk shows [commenting on] cases like this to undermine the faith of the American people in law enforcement.”