Republican George Bush, seeking a comeback against Ronald Reagan, said yesterday he was making election-eve headway in Massachusetts.
Bush once was the runaway leader in polls of Republican opinion, but a final survey by The Boston Globe called it virtually a dead heat.
Massachusetts and Vermont, which also votes today, are the last, best chances Bush has to overtake the former California governor before the campaign moves to the South -- which is likely to be solid Reagan territory.
Shaking hands with commuters at Boston's North Station, Bush said Reagan is too conservative for the taste of the voters. "The question is who can beat Jimmy Carter in the fall," the former U.N. ambassador said.
The Republican competition in Massachusetts is for 42 presidential nominating votes. There are nine namess on the ballot, with Reagan and Bush leading the field and Illinois Rep. John B. Anderson bidding to push past Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee for third place. Anderson has claimed he has a chance to finish second.
Reagan wrapped up his New England campaign in Rutland, Vt., disputing the assertion of former president Gerald R. Ford that he is too conservative to win in November.
Reagan said Ford's hint that he might enter the campaign will not affect his strategy.
Bush said he'll surprise people with his Massachusetts showing. But he said another defeat wouldn't cripple him. "I'm going into every one of those Southern primaries coming up and I'll do well in those, and then I'll go into Illinois strong," he said. "I see Illinois as the watershed."
Bush said he is the real alternative to Reagan and has to show in the primaries that it is a two-man race between them. He said the rest of the field won't have the money or the credibility to keep going if they continue to run far behind the leaders week after week.