WORLD

The last hurrah?

Bush fights for his political life

HILARY MACKENZIE November 2 1992
WORLD

The last hurrah?

Bush fights for his political life

HILARY MACKENZIE November 2 1992

The last hurrah?

WORLD

THE UNITED STATES

Bush fights for his political life

As the train rumbled into view, an earlymorning breeze rippled the banners hanging from the signal lights that

proudly boasted, “Rolling To Victory.” In Gastonia, N.C., the first stop on the second day of George Bush’s 700-km Spirit of America train tour through Georgia and the Carolinas last week, a local band warmed up the 20,000strong crowd, many of whom had braved a frosty dawn and long wait to catch a glimpse of the President. The supporters clapped and sang along to the rhythm-and-blues classic My Guy, waving hand-painted placards above their heads urging “Go Bush Go.” Clutching the guardrail at the rear of the 18-car train, the President appeared invigorated by the boisterous reception. “You notice the sun just came out,” said Bush, pointing to the sky. “Well, let me tell you something—that’s what’s going to happen on Election Day.” Added the combative incumbent: “Don’t believe these crazy polls. Don’t believe these nutty pollsters.”

Despite that spirited entreaty just 13 days before the Nov. 3 election, dark clouds loomed on the President’s political horizon. National opinion polls continued to show Bush trailing

his Democratic rival, Arkansas Gov. William Clinton, by double digits—and Independent Ross Perot gaining ground with as much as 19 per cent of the popular vote. And barring a major upset, pollsters and pundits alike predicted that Bush would be the first Republican president since 1932 to be ejected from the White House after serving only one four-year term.

Angry voters along North Carolina’s industrial corridor, which runs from Gastonia through Kannapolis, Thomasville and Burlington to Raleigh, were quick to blame Bush’s waning political fortunes on the sluggish economy. The region that leads the nation in tobacco, textile and furniture manufacturing has suffered high unemployment during the recession. “I don’t think he has the backbone to turn the economy around,” said Harold Wright, 44, a marketing manager who booked off work to see the President in Gastonia.“He has mortgaged the future of our children.”

Standing nearby, Peter Givens, a 32-yearold sales representative, wistfully recalled the Republican glory days of the early 1980s. Then, a brash Hollywood cowboy named Ron-

aid Reagan rode into the White House on promises to slash taxes, cut inflation, limit the size of government, bolster the country’s military might and make Americans feel good about themselves. “Ronald Reagan didn’t back down,” said Givens. “He took the bad news to the people and they rallied behind him.” Givens bemoaned Bush’s broken 1988 campaign pledge not to raise taxes, saying bluntly: “He tried to appease conservatives and liberals alike and it didn’t work.” That, Givens argued, weakened Bush in the political debates and on the campaign trail, where he was reduced to running a vicious negative campaign against Clinton instead of telling voters what he would do to ease their economic troubles.

In fact, in a spirited speech in Gastonia, which he repeated at four other stops that day, Bush doggedly attacked Clinton’s character. In a week when millions of Americans were preoccupied with the World Series, Bush wore a blue and red Atlanta Braves jacket. Gesturing with the team’s trademark hand chop, he charged that Clinton was indecisive and could not be trusted to govern the country. “Gov. Clinton’s like the guy that says, ‘Well, I might be for Toronto, but on the other hand I’m for the Braves,’ ” said Bush. “You’ve got to make a commitment. I am for the Braves.”

Later, in Burlington, the President continued his attacks on the character of his Democratic rival. Betty Kee, a 45-year-old Republican, stood at the back of the crowd and listened intently. The Spanish-language teacher said

HOW THE RACE IS SHAPING UP

In presidential elections, each state has an allotment of Electoral College votes equal to the number of senators and representatives that it sends to Congress. In addition, the District of Columbia, which has no voting members of Congress, has three electoral votes. The candidate with the highest share of the popular vote in each state captures all of that state’s electoral votes. A candidate must win 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes to become president.

ILLINOIS

Electoral College votes: 22

A victory In at least one of the industrialized states of Illinois, Michigan and Ohio Is essential to a winning campaign strategy. So-called Reagan Democrats helped to deliver Illinois to the Republicans In the past three presidential elections—although Bush won by only a slim margin In 1988. Now, Clinton, who Is well ahead in the polls, has wooed many of them back to the Democratic camp with his moderate economic platform. Although unemployment Is currently below the national average, many Midwestern workers say that they fear job losses because of free trade.

NEW YORK Electoral College votes: 33

Only four presidents have been elected In this century without the support of New York— among them Bush In 1988 when he lost the state to Democrat Michael Dukakis. And Bush appears poised to lose the second-largest electoral state again. Its unemployment rate is 8.5 per cent, and the recession has hurt the financial industry. Clinton has an overwhelming lead In polls in New York that, together with California, would give him nearly one-third of the votes required to send him to the White House.

CALIFORNIA Electoral College votes: 54

This key state, which has one-fifth of the electoral votes needed to win, has been a Republican stronghold since 1980, when native son Ronald Reagan captured the White House. But Clinton now enjoys a commanding double-digit lead In opinion polls, largely as a result of dissatisfaction with the Bush administration’s handling of the economy. Due to a decline In the defence, construction and manufacturing sectors, California has lost 800,000 jobs since mld-1990. Unemployment is 9.8 per cent—well over the national average of 7.5 per cent.

TEXAS Electoral College votes: 32

Bush’s adopted home state, Texas Is critical to the President’s re-election strategy. But polls show him in a dead heat with Clinton. Cutbacks in defence-related Industries and a steep decline in the energy sector, where the number of operating oil and gas rigs has dropped by more than 20 per cent over the past year, are contributing to discontent with Bush. But the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, which by some estimates could create 100,000 jobs in Texas, may boost his fortunes. Dallas billionaire Ross Perot has only modest support, although he may steal votes from the other two candidates.

FLORIDA Electoral College votes: 25

In 1988, Bush carried Florida with a million-vote margin and this year the state is key to his re-election. But although Bush is still more popular here than he Is nationally, he Is vulnerable. The President has only a slight lead over Clinton in the polls—making Florida a major battleground. Bush is strong in the conservative panhandle bordering Georgia and Alabama, in the Miami area with its large population of Cuban-Amerlcans and in Gulf Coast towns largely inhabited by retirees from the Midwest. Clinton is doing well in other parts of the state and leads among women and young voters. If Clinton takes Florida, a Democratic landslide is likely.

that Bush’s strategy plays well in small-town America. “Character is a big thing here,” said Kee. “Doing what you say you are going to do and fulfilling your promise is important.” Standing within earshot, Betty Maness, also 45, shook her head in disbelief. “AU I know is that George Bush is a liar,” she said, adding that she will vote for Clinton. Maness charged that Bush had misled the American public in two areas: his role in the Iran-contra scandal, in which the government secretly transferred arms to Iran in exchange for hostages and diverted the profits to finance a war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government; and his part in the so-called Iraqgate, the issuing of grain credits to Iraq before the Persian Gulf war. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein later exchanged the credits for deadly weapons on the

international arms market. “Bush knows all about that,” said Maness. “He knows exactly what happened.”

By nightfall, as the campaign train made its final stop at the State Fair Grounds in Raleigh, Bush’s attacks had grown more strident and his tone of voice was higher-pitched. He invoked the record of former president Jimmy Carter, who was elected in 1976, to warn people that they could be worse off with another liberal Democrat in the White House. “You remember the misery index—the liberals invented it,” said the President. “Inflation and unemployment added together, it got up to 21 per cent under Jimmy Carter, and it’s 10 with us. We cut it in half.”

But even as Bush hammered home his points, opposition to his message grew bolder.

Bonnie Hogue, 30, a Democrat, raised a sign venting her frustration with the President. In large blue letters, Hogue’s message read: “Reelect Bush? Wouldn’t be prudent.” Stating that it was time for a change in the country’s leadership, Hogue said: “I think this is Bush’s last hurrah in North Carolina and in our country. It’s time to say goodbye to George Bush and Dan Quayle.”

For his part, confident but not complacent with his overwhelming lead in the polls, Clinton headed into traditional Republican territory last week with a tour of his own, dubbed “Winning the West.” The Democrat flew to six western states, including Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, where Bush won easily four years ago but where Clinton is now gaining

strength. At each stop, Clinton appealed to Democrats, Republicans and Perot supporters alike to coalesce and give him “a mandate to rebuild this country and put our people first again.”

At a raucous rally in Billings, Mont., Clinton took the podium to the musical theme from How the West Was Won. He told 4,000 supporters packed into a gymnasium at Rocky Mountain College that “those guys in the White House have run out of ideas and we’re going to run ’em out of town.” The High Noon rhetoric was a big hit with the partisan crowd, many of them in cowboy boots and Stetsons. But it also struck a chord with two women in the audience who described themselves as lifelong Republicans. Neither would give her name, explaining that their Republican friends would not understand their support of the Democrat. Said one of the women of Clinton: “I think he’s got a plan.” Added her companion: “Four more years of this [Republican rule] and everybody will be broke.”

On Oct. 23, Clinton took his message of change to the heart of West Coast conservatism, Orange County, Calif. About 20,000 exuberant supporters overflowed an outdoor amphitheatre in Costa Mesa for a rally where such Hollywood stars as Jack Lemmon and Whoopi Goldberg urged voters to support Clinton. Acknowledging the southern county's long tradition of voting Republican, Clinton told the audience: “I want you to go out in the next 12 days to talk to your friends and neighbors and tell them it won’t kill them if they hold their noses one time and vote for a Democrat one time, because they'll like what they get.” Although it was uncertain whether he made any converts there, Clinton clearly made an impact last week on Kennebunkport, Me., where Bush has a vacation home. The seaside town’s York County Coast Star endorsed Clinton for president in an editorial that said: “As we look over the record of the past four years, we don’t find much to recommend another term for the President.”

If Bush loses the election, political analysts argue, it will herald the end of the moderate wing of the party—dubbed the Country-Club Republicans by their more conservative opponents. “Bush goes up in smoke to become like Jimmy Carter: an irrelevancy,” predicted William Schneider of the conservative Washington-based American Enterprise Institute. The two other losers, he added, will be Chief of Staff James Baker and Vice-President Dan Quayle. Analysts say that new standard-bearers will emerge from among such conservative Reaganites as Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber and William Kristol, Quayle’s chief of staff, who were scorned during the early part of the Bush administration.

Norman Podhoretz, editor-in-chief of Commentary, the Manhattan-based bastion of right-wing orthodoxy, says that Bush disassociated himself from Reagan and pushed the party to the centre to put his own “kinder and gentler” stamp on it. Said Podhoretz: “He lost the opportunity to lock in the new Republican

majority that Reagan had mobilized, and rejected the opportunity to maintain an indefinite Republican hold on the presidency.”

Already, key Republican conservatives, including Kemp, Kristol and Weber, have formed a foundation to try to reconstitute a firm base for a Republican appeal to the American public. That group will likely battle the religious right, which emerged dominant after the Republican National Convention in Houston last August, for the heart and soul of the party. Said Schneider: “Through sheer indifference, Bush allowed the religious right to take over the convention and present a very damaging image of the party.”

Indeed, it is a face of the Republican party that cost Bush much of his support on the political hustings. At the President's whistlestop in Raleigh last week, Tara Richardson, a 23-year-old chemist, stated bluntly that the religious right had pushed its social concerns, family values and opposition to abortion, onto

the Republican platform at the party convention. As a result, Richardson said, women and minorities were no longer welcome in the Republican party. “George Bush has caved in to the religious right,” she said, adding: “I would hope that the American people wake up and say we don’t want any religious fanatics running our country.” At the rally, Richardson waved a banner that read “Women for Clinton.”

With Bush trailing in opinion polls in all but nine states, political analyst Schneider said that it remained mathematically possible for the President to win on Nov. 3, but that it was “politically improbable and historically unprecedented.” At his last train stop in Raleigh last week, Bush acknowledged the challenge. “Nobody ever said it would be easy, and it isn’t, but it’s worth the fight,” he said. Next week, American voters will have the final say.

HILARY MACKENZIE

in Raleigh with corre-

spondents’ reports