DES MOINES — In the sharpest attack so far on a fellow Democrat in the 1988 presidential campaign, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) on Friday accused Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of distorting his role in his state's economic recovery and compared the governor's trade proposals to those of President Reagan.
Dukakis may have initiated effective programs, Gephardt said, but "to say that is the only reason they have had an economic miracle in Massachusetts, I don't think is in touch with the facts."
Gephardt said Massachusetts' economy is booming partly because of the $1,500 per capita Defense Department spending in that state, compared to only $200 a person in Iowa.
Cites 'Star Wars' Spending
At a breakfast speech to about 40 local Democrats and at a news conference later, Gephardt charged that "part of the reason Massachusetts is doing so well is because there is so much 'Star Wars' research going on in Massachusetts."
Criticism of President Reagan's space-based missile defense program consistently brings applause at Democratic gatherings here, site of the first presidential caucuses next year.
"I think it's unfortunate that he (Gephardt) is taking this approach," said John Sasso, Dukakis' campaign manager. He added that Dukakis "will continue to campaign positively on what he believes is right for our country."
Mark Gearan, who runs Dukakis' Iowa campaign, said that only 7% of Massachusetts' gross product is defense-related and that only 4% to 5% of the state's jobs are tied to defense.
Gephardt said the Democratic debate Wednesday in Houston disclosed some "big differences" among the candidates.
"I think the biggest disappointment was Gov. Dukakis' implicit support for Ronald Reagan's trade policy, which is really not a trade policy at all. . . . It does nothing to open trade markets," he said.
Gephardt said Dukakis and other candidates made it clear during the debate that they oppose the oil import fee and tougher trade policies he has proposed.
"I didn't hear any of them say they are for the Gephardt trade amendment," he said, referring to the provision now attached to the House trade bill that would mandate retaliation against countries that run large trade surpluses with the United States and do not take steps to open their markets to U.S. goods.
"Gov. Dukakis specifically said if we took a tough position on trade like that," the nation would lose jobs, Gephardt said. Dukakis said retaliation could touch off a trade war that would cost 6 million jobs related to imports.
"I think that is looking at the issue through a regional prism," Gephardt said, because Massachusetts could be disproportionately affected by an oil import fee, and its high-technology firms could be hurt if trade tensions rise.
"I think he is misstating the facts because we are losing 12,000 jobs per day because of the trade deficit," Gephardt said. "I think the question for trade in 1988 is what are you willing to do to get those trade markets open? Apparently, the Dukakis trade policy is like the Reagan trade policy, which is to do very little."