An outspoken, issue-oriented Joan Mondale took the Mondale-Ferraro campaign into Michigan and Wisconsin today, defending her husband's debate performance and asserting Geraldine Ferraro's innocence of organized crime.
"I think that's going too far," Mrs. Mondale told reporters in Lansing when asked about reports that Ferraro's parents had associations with organized-crime figures and that they had been numbers runners 40 years ago. "Geraldine Ferraro was 8 years old -- for crying out loud, why don't they leave her alone?"
This was the first of five days she plans to spend with supporters at rallies and luncheons as the campaign enters its final days. Today she was at a United Auto Workers luncheon in suburban Detroit, a women's group rally in Lansing and a student rally at Lawrence University in Appleton.
The normally unflappable and low-key Mrs. Mondale displayed exasperation when asked if the allegations might be important.
"The issue is, is she qualified to be vice president of the United States, and after that debate with George Bush, it is absolutely clear that she is qualified, she is capable, that she has a clear plan of the future, that she is a Democrat. And Fritz Mondale chose her because she was a qualified, experienced and terrific campaigner. She's right on all the issues."
Mrs. Mondale said people should be focusing on those qualifications and she dismissed a suggestion that the attacks on Ferraro might be because she is a woman.
"Oh, I don't think so -- I just think the criticism of her is regrettable," she said.
She said her husband's closing statement Sunday night was "brilliant -- particularly compared to Ronald Reagan's, which made absolutely no sense. It was inappropriate, rambling, had no connection with anything -- he didn't even finish it," she said.
She used Reagan's unfinished closing statement throughout the day to needle him publicly.
"After the debate, Mr. Reagan asked Fritz if he wanted to hear the rest of his concluding statement before Mr. Edwin Newman interrupted him," is how she told it first to the UAW group.
"The last time I saw Fritz, he was trapped there, listening to the end of it -- about a letter in a time capsule and driving down the California interstate and missing the turn." Then, shaking her head, she finished with her assessment of Reagan: "Poor man."
She said President Reagan's line about age didn't have "anything to do with the debate -- I think it was a Phil Donahue one-liner."
And she said she doubted that her husband had expected a question about age -- "I mean, we're not talking about age; I don't know why they said that." Asked whether Mondale shouldn't have anticipated that Reagan would try to dispel the age issue with a joke, Mrs. Mondale said, "What is there to say -- there's no response to that."
At another point she said, "How could anybody have the nerve to say to an old man, 'Aren't you too old?' That is really disrespectful."
The American people should be able to figure it out if Reagan is too old, she said, adding, "We don't think he managed well in the last four years." She offered as evidence of that "the way his mind works, and I think you can see that in both debates. He's not interested in detail, not interested in mastering the subject, not interested in taking the responsibility. He just shoves the blame over onto everybody else."
Mrs. Mondale said Reagan made "too many mistakes" to be considered the winner in Sunday night's debate, and she pooh-poohed the varying poll results that indicated Reagan had won, saying they only reflected Reagan's style and nothing of his substance. She conceded that style and appearance are important.
"I think it's because we're in the television era that people often make judgments based on what they see in a snippet of the news," she said. "It's quite unfortunate because what you must really figure out is, What does this person represent? What is his record?" Calling her husband "a gentleman" on several different occasions, she clearly had different opinions about George Bush and his recent remarks.
"I just think it's regrettable -- you don't stoop to that level. You conduct the campaign the way it should be conducted, on the issues and not on personalities."