It was one of the more compelling images of the Soviet-American summit: George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, having worked a Connecticut Avenue lunchtime crowd yesterday, linking arms, smiling and waving.
"If I had been Bush's advance man, that's the picture I would want," said Democratic political consultant Carter Eskew. "It's perfect."
The just-concluded summit was not only about missiles and regional conflicts. It was also about the media and presidential politics, with candidates of both parties vying for exposure and advantage.
Bush, for one, has been blitzing the airwaves, making the rounds of all the network morning shows, playing the nightly news and planning a postsummit appearance this weekend on NBC's "Meet the Press." Through satellite feeds arranged, and in some cases paid for, by the Bush campaign, he has also granted interviews, in six-minute bites, to some 100 local television stations around the country, said his press secretary Peter Teeley.
"He is basically a vice president deeply involved in the negotiations and discussions with the general secretary," Teeley said of the campaign message, "dealing with issues of national security, human rights and arms control, basically fortifying his long-term career and experience in the international community."
Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) has also been ubiquitous on the tube, though not as omnipresent as Bush. Unlike the vice president, said Dole spokeswoman Katie Boyle, "he has so many other things to do."
Alexander Haig, meanwhile, went on CBS Monday and was interviewed yesterday on the Cable News Network. "The answer is: My candidate has reaped the most from this," said Haig press secretary Dan Mariaschin -- although Republican political consultant Robert Goodman, who worked for Bush in the '80 campaign, had other ideas.
"Haig just has the most unfortunate television personality I've ever seen," Goodman sighed. "If you listen to what he says, a lot of it makes a lot of sense. But the delivery, and the mood of the delivery, is kind of frightening."
Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald sang the (faint) praises of Bush. "This is the first time that the 'l' word -- 'leadership' -- begins to vaguely creep into a sentence that includes George Bush."
Goodman said his good friend the vice president has noticeably improved his television persona since the last campaign. "He's almost objective about himself. He doesn't look any more like he's pleading or trying to impress. And he took off his glasses. George has the best-looking eyes in politics."
The three other Republicans, who may also have ocular presence, have been seldom seen or heard. "This is a White House show," said Scott Hatch, press secretary to Pat Robertson.
"It's mainly a Washington story," said Democrat Vada Manager, spokesman for the campaign of former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt. "Not even a Washington story -- but a Republican story."
Of the six Democrats running, only Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), who presents himself as an arms control expert, seems to have been able to maneuver himself into the thick of things.
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), one of Gore's rivals, "made the decision weeks ago that he wasn't going to put himself in the position of appearing to seek political gain from the summit," said Simon press secretary Terry Michael.
Gore, on the other hand, has appeared on the CBS "This Morning" show as well as a passel of TV stations in "Super Tuesday" states -- "all the schedule would permit," said Gore spokesman Mike Kopp. "He would have had more time to do interviews," Kopp added, significantly, "but Al went to the Gorbachev luncheon yesterday and that went on longer than expected."
Eskew, a friend of Gore's, said the predictable thing about who has reaped the media benefits among the Democrats. Among Republicans, he picked Bush as the beneficiary, but said of Senate Minority Leader Dole, who has been at pains to distance himself from the arms treaty while embracing the idea of it, "He's kind of like the skeleton at the feast, which is not what you want to be."
Hatch also was down on Dole. "Bob Dole kind of got caught in the middle," he said. "Even though he says he is not waffling, I think the general public is interpreting that as being somewhat indecisive."
Goodman was not so sure. "Bob Dole might have played very smart politics, by showing that he shares at least some of the doubts of the majority of voters who vote in these elections," he said. "It might have been a very shrewd play."
"I don't think Dole's been helped much at all," said media consultant John Russonello, a Babbitt partisan, "given that the theme of his campaign seems to be leadership, and he hasn't taken a position on something that's crying out for leadership. It seems to run counter to the message of his campaign."
Dole press secretary Mari Maseng dismissed such thoughts.
"People inside the Beltway get carried away with events of the moment, and with living for the next news cycle," she said. "I think where Senator Dole is going to be positioned -- by next week, most of the herd mentality will have come around to his point of view."
The Dole people have said they were shocked, shocked, to learn that Bush invited supporters from Iowa and New Hampshire -- the first presidential caucus and primary states, respectively -- to his breakfast yesterday with the Soviet leader.
"I think Bush has looked somewhat silly throughout this whole process," Maseng said. "The Bush campaign has turned the summit into a political circus -- one of the most serious matters of national security in a very long time -- and turned it into a political football. It looks totally inappropriate."
"Sounds like they're turning green with envy," Teeley replied.
But the winner and still champion of the media sweepstakes is Gorbachev, according to Eskew.
"What television loves is spontaneity, or the appearance of spontaneity," he said. "I'm telling you, this guy -- in terms of the theater and drama of television -- has beaten the Gipper badly, in my opinion. With some of his off-the-cuff remarks, with his toasts, much more human and dramatic, with his stunt of getting out of the car -- this is the kind of stuff we used to expect from Reagan."