BURLINGTON, Vt. — Escalating his budding feud with rival presidential candidate Pat Robertson, Vice President George Bush demanded Wednesday that Robertson apologize for linking Bush to news reports about Jimmy Swaggart's encounter with a prostitute.
"By about sundown tonight, sundown in the Old South, I'd like to see him stand up like a Southern gentleman, show a little evidence, or else apologize," Bush said.
The vice president denied any connection to the reports about Swaggart, a television minister.
Later in the day, Robertson said he had not made the accusation about the vice president, prompting Peter Teeley, Bush's spokesman, to say: "It's like a mirror, a videotape doesn't lie. But I think if he wants to back off those charges, that's fine."
The Swaggart sex scandal has taken on particular relevance to the Republican presidential campaign because Robertson reached national prominence as a television evangelist, as has Swaggart. Robertson said Tuesday that it was no coincidence that the Swaggart episode, which occurred last fall, was suddenly made public just before the critical Southern contests on Super Tuesday, March 8.
Oblique Attack on Atwater
"Knowing the quality of the people surrounding George Bush, there is nothing I would not believe they would do sleazy. I've never seen anything like it," Robertson said Tuesday. Without mentioning by name Lee Atwater, a South Carolinian who is heading Bush's national campaign organization, Robertson said: "I'm talking about the man who is his (Bush's) campaign manager."
Bush, receiving only sketchy reports of the Robertson remarks, refrained from specific response on Tuesday, but he denied that he or anyone in his campaign played any role in bringing to light Swaggart's encounter with a prostitute in New Orleans several months ago.
But any pretense at standing back from the fray was dropped at a news conference on Wednesday when a reporter in Burlington read to Bush lengthy quotations from Robertson.
Bush listened to the allegations, and, with sudden fire, quickly replied:
"I respond that that's not true. If somebody is going to make a scathing allegation of that nature, they ought to prove it. And if they can't prove it, they ought to apologize. Those charges are outrageous."
Bush spoke in the midst of the one day he is likely to spend away from the South during the two weeks leading up to Super Tuesday. Vermont's non-binding primary will be held next Tuesday.
Refers to Missile Claim
At the Burlington news conference, Bush recalled Robertson's allegation, made just before the New Hampshire primary election on Feb. 16, that Soviet SS-4 and SS-5 missiles were deployed in Cuba. The White House and the Pentagon denied that there had been any such weapons in Cuba since October, 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis.
"If he knows there are Red missiles in Cuba, he ought to prove it," Bush said.
Similarly, he challenged Robertson to prove his allegation, made late last week, that Bush had been given, in advance, questions to be asked at a debate of Republican candidates in Dallas F1919509601allocation of tickets than the other candidates.
The vice president said that he could not figure out why Robertson raised the allegation related to the Swaggart case, but then he said, "to gain votes, I guess."
Asks About Charges
He said he spoke with Atwater Tuesday night and asked: "What in the world are all these charges?"
The campaign manager, Bush said, replied that he was "totally in the dark."
Bush's remarks about Robertson also served to shift attention Wednesday away from his defeats in the South Dakota primary and the Minnesota caucuses Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas won more votes in South Dakota than the rest of the Republican field, and he won a solid victory in Minnesota.
"The results were somewhat anticipated," Bush said in Portland, Me. "You can't go everywhere. I'd have liked to have won. I congratulate those who did. You can't win 'em all."