Dukakis, Campaign Struggling To Regain Momentum
Dukakis, Campaign Struggling To Regain Momentum
Aug. 28, 1988
BOSTON (AP) _ The campaign of Michael Dukakis, concerned by George Bush's surge in the polls, is under increasing pressure to take a more aggressive stance in the presidential contest and the candidate himself is suggesting he might do just that.
Democratic strategists in and out of the Dukakis campaign expressed growing concern last week that Bush had seized control of the debate and that Dukakis' message was either too vague or being obscured by Bush's forceful attacks on Dukakis and the media focus on the vice president's coice of Indian Sen. Dan Quayle as his running mate.
While Dukakis frequently denounces negative campaigning, he hinted strongly Saturday that he was nearing the point where he would return Bush's salvos, which range from attacks on Dukakis' patriotism and record on crime issues to jokes about his height.
''Remember 1982? It's Ed King all over again,'' Dukakis said Saturday night on a flight from Washington to western Massachusetts where he was spending the weekend before a two-day gubernatorial visit to the region.
King was the man who knocked Dukakis out of office in 1978 only to lose four years later in a rematch that was considered one of the nastiest and most aggressive campaigns in state history.
''It's getting the juices out early,'' Dukakis said. ''In 1982, King was on with negative television on me beginning in February. I mean non-stop, never got off, every single week, bang, bang, bang bang.
''Did it hurt? Sure it hurt. But at the appropriate point, people I think had a sense that enough is enough. You come back, and basically you make the needed adjustments.''
Just what those adjustments will be this year remains unclear, but there has been, according to campaing aides, virtually daily debate over whether Dukakis should adopt a more agressive posture.
The aides, speaking privately, say Dukakis has resisted most attempts to get him to respond faster and feistier to the Bush criticisms. Instead, he has continued to stress his message of economic opportunity and will continue that effort this week with two economic speeches during his state trip.
With the exception of an economic speech he delivered after winning the AFL-CIO endorsement last week and a sharply worded attack on Reagan-Bush anti- drug efforts the following day, Dukakis' message has been largely lost during the focus on the Republican National Convention, the Quayle selection and the Bush-Quayle attacks on Dukakis' positions on defense, crime, the Pledge Of Allegiance and gun control.
''The other stories have tended to obscure the message that we've tried to get out,'' said Dukakis issues adviser Thomas Herman. ''We'll keep talking about our message and we think it will begin to stick once some of the clutter and stage or negative campaigning ends.''
Dukakis, speaking to reporters on the flight, recalled that John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson got bogged down with congressional duties after the 1960 Democratic convention but bounced back to win, seemingly a reference to the time he is forced to dedicate to being governor.
But, with Bush surging and Labor Day on the horizon, Dukakis plans to cut his statehouse time to one day a week and, in another effort to reinvigorate his effort, his campaign is preparing to unleash a round of television advertising.
''After Labor Day you'll seen the real fight,'' said Dukakis strategist Chuck Campion.
Dukakis and aides also blame talk that their campaign is floundering on the media, which reports that Bush is mounting an aggressive campaign and translates that into a stalled Dukakis effort.
''Long campaigns tend to be like this,'' said Dukakis consultant Thomas Kiley. ''You move in and out of phases where one candidate is being more specific and more engaged.''
In the Dukakis campaign, ''engaged'' is the word for aggressive, a term the governor's aides are quick to differentiate from ''nasty,'' a label they have pinned on Bush.
''We'll be running against Mr. Bush's record,'' said Herman. ''In the areas where Mr. Bush has a record, like drugs and trade, he has failed.''
In seizing the debate, Bush has focused on a Dukakis program that until early this year allowed first-degree murderers out on furlough and the governor's 1977 veto of legislation that would have required Massachusetts teachers to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance. Dukakis veteod it after being advised it was unconstitutional. Bush has said he would sign the measure, leading Dukakis to say Bush is unfit for the presidency is he would sign unconstitutional legislation.
''This contest is not about which one of us is the most patriotic,'' Dukakis said Saturday. ''We're both good patriots. We both love our country.''
With statements like that, Dukakis hopes to show he is trying to keep the high ground and will credit Bush if he thinks credit is due. But Dukakis also has a history of firing back when he believes he has come under undue attack.
In 1982, for example, Dukakis was under harsh attack from King in the weeks leading up to a televised debate. Before the program began, Dukakis was asked to check his microphone and rattled off figures about increasing crime during the King administration. The move startled King and he floundered through the debate as Dukakis assailed him for running a corrupt administration. Dukakis, under attack from Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt during the presidential primaries, also aired an ad noting Gephardt's ''flip flops'' on a number of issues
Dukakis and his aides also have raised questions about Bush's judgment, choosing not to directly attack Quayle, instead questioning whether the 41- year-old senator with an undistinguished congressional record is qualified, as Dukakis said Saturday, ''to step in as president the next day if needed.''
Senior Dukakis adviser Kirk O'Donnell promised those efforts would continue and that Dukakis would make new proposals after Labor Day.
The candidate himself, predicting he would rebound soon, smiled and simply said, ''It's only August.''