Vice President George Bush brandished a newspaper headline calling the Massachusetts budget "a mess" yesterday, as he returned to the offense in the race for the White House. Democratic nominee and underdog Michael S. Dukakis said his Republican rival was "slipping and we're surging" into the homestretch.
There was evidence the hardcharging Democrat might be right. CBS said its latest poll showed the Republican vice president with a lead of seven points nationally, down from 12 only three days earlier.
The new poll indicated as much as 24 percent of voters may not have made their final decisions, CBS said.
CBS said its survey showed Bush leading 51-44 among probable voters polled Tuesday through Thursday, with a margin of error of three percentage points. The margin had been 53-41 in a survey taken during the three days ending Monday.
A survey taken for The Associated Press and Charleston Daily Mail gave Dukakis a 15-point bulge in traditionally Democratic West Virginia, a large gain for him since a survey in mid-October. ABC said its overnight survey of battleground state Pennsylvania gave Bush a three-point edge.
Both campaigns are pouring a fortune into network advertising campaigns over the weekend--$1.3 million by Bush and $375,000 by Dukakis--not to mention additional thousands on both sides for commercials targeted to battleground states.
But Dukakis feigned disbelief that Bush had lately begun telling audiences he was on their side--the very line that has fueled the gains for the Democrat in some states. "Who's he kidding?" said Dukakis.
The two men had five-minute back-to-back interviews on ABC's "World News Tonight," and both were asked about the nastiness that has pervaded this year's race. Bush said his campaign has been "hard-hitting, but it's been fair and it's been accurate." He said Dukakis has run his full share of negative commercials, as well.
Dukakis countered that Bush was attacking him to "divert attention from a failed record on the war against drugs, from the kind of sleaze and corruption we've seen in Washington."
The physical strain was beginning to show on the presidential marathoners.
Dukakis sipped honey-sweetened tea and sucked on lozenges to protect what was left of his voice. Even so, aides were discussing having him campaign all day Monday in California, and then flying into Iowa in the middle of the night. After that--perhaps even an election morning appearance in Ohio before going home to Boston.
Bush figured to end up at Houston for a rally on Monday, then make an election-morning appearance in Texas before awaiting the results.
In addition to their weekend advertising plans, each candidate has paid nearly $1 million to buy a half-hour slot on all three networks on Election Eve. Dukakis will make his final appeal at 8 p.m. EST followed by Bush at 8:30 p.m.
Dukakis was making his way from New York to Kentucky and then to Illinois for one of the sacred rites of Democratic politics, a torchlight parade through Chicago.
"I smell victory in the air," he told a rainy rally in Kentucky.
Bush was making his way through Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey aiming to nail down victory in a race he had led since a late-summer surge.
In a made-for-television gesture, he held aloft a copy of Wednesday's Boston Herald, with a front-page headline description of the Massachusetts budget situation: "What a Mess." He accused Dukakis of "borrowing like mad" and "kiting checks."
In an interview aboard his plane, the vice president criticized a Washington consulting firm run by one of his longtime associates for citing close ties to the vice president in trying to win a contract representing the new government of Haiti. "I denounce it. I don't like it. I think it's wrong, he said