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Front-Runners, Also-Runners and Flops : Dole or Bush: A Battle for First

The Running Arguments: A Continuing Series Surveying The Presidential Campain And Candidates.

February 14, 1988|Robert G. Beckel | Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst, served as Walter F. Mondale's 1984 campaign manager

WASHINGTON — For George Bush and Bob Dole, last week was the time to turn to a new page in their GOP campaign scripts. For Dole, the senior senator from Kansas, what worked in Iowa may not work the same way in New Hampshire. For Bush, what didn't work in Iowa must work in New Hampshire. It has become a question of the vice president's political survival.

To win in New Hampshire, Bush has to go after Dole and leave Marion G. (Pat) Robertson alone--because the demographics of the Bush and Dole voters are relatively identical. They draw from the same voter base. A vote for Dole is one less vote for Bush and vice versa. Robertson voters, on the other hand, never supported Bush and probably never will. An attack on Robertson will not add any votes to the Bush column. Any attack may just stir up Robertson's troops even more than they are already.

Bush needs to attack Dole as if his political life depends on it--because it does. To wit:

Bush has to put all he's got into New Hampshire. Taking a lesson from Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), Bush should spend the legal limit, pulling his best organizers from the South and elsewhere and putting them in New Hampshire. Organizers and phone banks will not do him any good in places he'll never get to if he doesn't win here.

In his commercials, all of Bush's positive messages should feature pictures of Bush with Ronald Reagan.

Similarly, attacks on Dole should be done by surrogates closely identified with Reagan, and the attacks should stress the senator's insufficient loyalty to the President.

Reinforcing this should be video clips of Dole's attacks on Reagan in Iowa, replayed in New Hampshire. One image accompanying these clips could be a spinning weather vane to underline Dole's change of direction on Reagan from state to state.

Thematically, Bush should attack Dole, linking him to taxes and austerity. New Hampshire voters are notorious tax-haters and, with their current booming economy, they see little reason for austerity.

Dole can quickly put Bush away in New Hampshire. Capitalizing on his momentum from Iowa, Dole should:

Concentrate all his national resources, organization and attention on New Hampshire for the kill. This is Dole's best chance. Right now. If the fight becomes a protracted one, Bush's real organizational strength will make him, once again, the favorite.

Avoid attacking Bush personally. Dole should play the part of the gracious winner. Stress the proven qualities necessary to be President. This will transfer the "mean-spirited" stigma to Bush.

Allow surrogates to argue that Bush is unelectable. Let them show concern that Bush carries too much "political baggage"--a code word for the Iran-Contra scandal.

Put Elizabeth H. Dole in New Hampshire full time. She is a tremendous asset to the campaign.

Present Bush, thematically, as a man who can talk all he wants about what he's done in the Administration. But show Dole leading the way on every successful Reagan initiative in Congress, and underline this with Dole's voting record with Reagan on major bills. Reinforce this with a military image of Bush as the radio operator, relaying messages from headquarters, while Dole is in the front-line trenches, fighting the pitched battles.

The Iowa round of the Republican nomination process has produced a wounded front-runner and a divided party.

Bush can win New Hampshire by proving that he is both conservative enough to assume the Reagan mantle and still mainstream enough to fend off a Robertson challenge at the convention.

Dole can win with the momentum from his fast start in farm country helping to enhance his message of leadership and electability.

Both men, however, can lose the general election to the Democrats who just had their best week since their own one-time front-runner shipped out on the Monkey Business.

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