CENTER POINT, Iowa — Vice President George Bush and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) traded new insults today and a gleeful Democrat said the two are acting like "kids fighting in a sandbox."
With three days to go before Monday's Iowa party caucuses, which open election year voting, Bush's national campaign chief, Lee Atwater, accused Dole of hypocrisy.
In a letter to the Senate Republican leader, Atwater demanded that Dole apologize for what he called personal attacks on Bush.
But at an appearance here, Dole denied he was picking on Bush and likened Bush presidential campaign aides to renegades "that put poison in the well upstream and then ride into town and ask, 'Why are all the people dying?' "
Dole, a decorated war hero who lost the use of his right arm in combat, predicted:
"I expect the next shot from the Bush campaign will be that 'Dole shot himself, he wasn't really wounded in World War II.' "
Dole made the remarks after a resident asked: "Are you picking on George Bush?"
"It's like two kids fighting in a sandbox," Democratic strategist Bob Beckel told Reuters.
Confrontation in Senate
On Thursday, Dole confronted Bush on the Senate floor and demanded he apologize for charges of "cronyism" and "mean-spiritedness" by Bush Iowa campaign manager George Wittgraf. (Story, Page 6.)
In his letter, Atwater said it was Dole who was guilty of negative campaigning and that the Kansas lawmaker would get an apology from Wittgraf--only after Dole apologized to Bush.
Bush, campaigning today in Watertown, S.D., was asked whether he would apologize to Dole for Wittgraf's remarks. Bush replied: "Absolutely not. Absolutely not."
Bush said "I'd be glad" to meet with Dole to discuss negative advertising, and he added that Atwater was sending the Dole campaign a list of allegedly inflammatory remarks the Dole camp has made about Bush.
The letter was the latest exchange in three days of squabbling between Bush and Dole that has dominated the final stages of the Iowa contest.
Thousands of Iowa voters of both parties will hold meetings to express their choices for the presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election.
Polls show Bush, the national front-runner in the Republican nomination race, running well behind Dole in Iowa.
Interviews with party leaders indicate that the Bush-Dole feud may be backfiring on both men.
"It turns off the voters," a Democratic campaign strategist said. "Voters kind of get tired of bitter stuff."