TV Ads Help Bush Pull Even With Dukakis in Big-Prize California
DONALD M. ROTHBERG
Oct. 17, 1988
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In just 60 seconds, George Bush transformed his prospects in California from a potential landslide loss to Democrat Michael Dukakis into a dead-heat battle for the state's 47 electoral votes, the biggest prize in the presidential election.
That magic minute for Bush was comprised of two 30-second television commercials - one attacking Dukakis for pollution in Boston Harbor, the other focusing on the Massachusetts program permitting furloughs for prison inmates.
Before those commercials began airing on TV stations throughout the state, Dukakis held a strong, often double-digit, lead over Bush among California voters in public opinion polls.
The Massachusetts governor had been scoring heavily with strong attacks on the Reagan-Bush administration's environmental record and with speeches linking the vice president to Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, whom Dukakis described as a ''drug-running Panamanian dictator.''
But since the Bush campaign began its Boston Harbor and crime commercials, the gap between the two candidates has narrowed in the nation's largest state.
Dukakis has counterattacked with a commercial contending that ''it was Bush's administration that cut funds to clean up Boston Harbor.'' The spot accused the administration of cutting money allocated to clean up the California coast as well.
''So when you hear George Bush talk about the environment, remember what he did to the environment,'' the commercial concludes. Dukakis has the support of major environmental organizations in California.
The lure of this state's 47 electoral votes - nearly one-sixth of the 270 needed for election on Nov. 8 - has brought the state a steady stream of campaign visits and an avalanche of money.
''California is an integral part of nearly every winning scenario,'' said Dukakis campaign communications director Leslie Dach.
Dukakis has spent 10 days in California since Labor Day and will be in the state at least six more days before Election Day.
Bush has been in the state nine days over the same period and also will return before the election. He can expect determined help here from his chief campaign surrogate, President Reagan, who was twice elected governor of California.
Steve Hopcraft, spokesman for Dukakis' state campaign, said at least $10 million would be spent in California boosting the Democratic nominee's election.
Bush campaign aides were unable to supply a figure, but there seemed little doubt that the vice president's backers also were spending millions in the state.
''We've been sitting in a dead heat for a couple of weeks now,'' said Bill Lacy, who is directing the Bush effort in California.
''We are ahead in this state,'' claims Tony Podesta, Lacy's counterpart with the Dukakis campaign. But if the Massachusetts governor is leading, it is by the narrowest of margins.
The most recent public poll said Dukakis was leading by 4 points.
No state polling data has been available since the final presidential debate was held in Los Angeles on Oct. 13, but national surveys said Bush was given the edge in that confrontation.
Both campaigns are working hard to build grass-roots organizations capable of getting out the vote for their candidates.
Hopcraft said the Dukakis campaign was making 30,000 telephone contacts nightly to recruit volunteers, and would have a leader in each of the state's 23,617 precincts by Election Day.
Lacy said Bush phone banks have contacted 600,000 voters. The Bush campaign also has the benefit of Republican Gov. George Deukmejian's statewide organization.
Lacy said California was ''too big to be organized simply as another state.'' As a result, he said, the Bush campaign has carved it into four distinct regions. They are the Republican heartland in such southern counties as Orange and Ventura, the heavily Democratic San Francisco Bay area, less heavily Democratic Los Angeles County and rural areas that are proving to be an important battleground in this race.
During Bush's most recent appearances on a bus tour of the central valley, he kept up his attacks on Dukakis as a liberal out of step with mainstream America.
''When you hear those liberals talk, the 11 most feared words in the English language are 'I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help you','' Bush told a rally in Stockton. ''The American people don't believe that.''
Before a Hispanic audience in Pasadena, Dukakis labeled the attacks ''cynical'' and accused the Reagan administration and the vice president of ignoring the concerns of the poor and middle class.
''We can't take four years of that, we can't take four days of that,'' he said.
When speaking to Hispanics, Dukakis often lapses into Spanish, which invariably gets a strong positive response. Hispanics are a fast-growing part of the California electorate but their election turnout is lower than among other groups of voters.