MANCHESTER, N.H. — Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt began a head-to-head war of words in the Democratic presidential contest Wednesday, indicating that the two may now view each other as the main contenders for the balance of the campaign.
Their sparring began just as two new polls showed that Gephardt has moved into second place in New Hampshire on the strength of his victory in Iowa.
Although Dukakis, the regional favorite son, has maintained a big lead over the rest of the field in New Hampshire, Gephardt appears to have surged past Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, who had been in second place until recently.
Dukakis, apparently believing that Gephardt's tough stance on imports and foreign competition makes him vulnerable in booming New Hampshire, charged: "The real choice has nothing to do with what is now becoming, I think, a rather tired debate between free trade and protectionism. That's a 19th-Century debate. We've got to prepare for the 21st Century."
Calls Amendment 'Dead'
The proposed Gephardt trade amendment is "dead--killed by a Democratic Senate," Dukakis told an audience of about 200 students at St. Anselm College here. "I'm against the Gephardt amendment. The reason it was killed, it was not an answer. It is not the way you build a competitive America.
"It is a bureaucratic, unwieldy proposal, which threatens to set off a trade war. I don't want us to be circling the wagons and throwing up walls around us. I am someone who believes more trade is better than less trade."
Gephardt hit back hard, telling reporters here that Dukakis has yet to articulate any trade position.
"What I think voters want to hear is, what are our stands on trade," Gephardt said. "I've said what I'm for. I'd like to hear what Mike Dukakis is for. I'd like to know what he's going to do to stand up for the rights of American workers and American businesses."
Gephardt added that Dukakis was using "silly labels" by describing Gephardt as protectionist.
"His thinking is stuck in the past on this issue," Gephardt said. "What workers and businessmen want to hear from him is how are we going to get those (foreign) markets open."
Gephardt Aide Joins Fight
Gephardt's national campaign manager, Bill Carrick, also joined the battle, charging that Dukakis had flip-flopped on the trade issue since leaving economically troubled Iowa.
"Something got lost on the plane ride from Iowa to New Hampshire," Carrick said. "He (Dukakis) was talking tough on trade in Iowa.
"I'm saying we had a candidate, Mike Dukakis, who was tough on trade, sounding very much like Dick Gephardt, and now that we've gotten to New Hampshire, he doesn't understand the Gephardt trade policy. He understood it when he was in UAW (United Auto Workers) halls in Iowa. Now he gets back here and is singing a different tune."
Meanwhile, Simon, whose campaign is desperate for cash in the wake of his second-place showing in Iowa, went on the attack against both Dukakis and Gephardt. Of Dukakis, he said that voters want more than just a "manager or a technocrat." Then, while standing near the troubled Seabrook nuclear plant, he charged that Gephardt had voted with the nuclear industry while in Congress.
But while both Gephardt and Dukakis lashed back at Simon on Wednesday, they spent most of their time criticizing each other.
Gephardt and his aides argue that all they need is second place here in Dukakis' backyard to continue their battle in the South on Super Tuesday.
"He (Dukakis) is the clear favorite here," Gephardt said. "I think the fight's over second place."
Results of polls released Wednesday appeared to support Gephardt's assertion that the New Hampshire contest is turning into a two-man race.
An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted Tuesday night, after the Iowa caucuses, found that the New Hampshire race has tightened. Dukakis still leads with a 37% approval rating, but Gephardt has closed the gap and now has 21%. By contrast, as recently as Sunday, Dukakis, with 43%, had led Simon, with 13%, and Gephardt, with 12%.
Poll Shows Gephardt Gaining
And a new poll by the Boston Herald and WBZ-TV of Boston also showed Gephardt moving up. Dukakis was still in first place, with 44%, up from 35% on Jan. 27. But Gephardt moved from 7% and third place in the earlier survey to 17% and second place, passing Simon, who is now at 13%.
Gephardt aides admit that they left Iowa nearly broke, however, and now must divert much of the candidate's time away from the New Hampshire campaign trail to attend fund-raisers in Washington and New York this week.
Gephardt has purchased $100,000 worth of television time to air his commercials in New Hampshire, but he needs more money to continue the ad blitz through next Tuesday's primary.
"We're not out of money, but we're treading water," Carrick said. "We're very encouraged by the money we are getting from our victory in Iowa. We were running on fumes at the end in Iowa."
In Washington on Wednesday night, Gephardt told contributors at a private fund-raising event that he has raised $200,000 since the Iowa caucuses Monday and expects to raise another $200,000 by Friday to pay for a stepped-up schedule of commercials in New Hampshire.
Staff writers Bob Drogin in New Hampshire and Don Shannon in Washington contributed to this story.