Pointing proudly to today's surge in the stock market's Dow Jones index "over the magic 1,000," President Reagan declared that his economic policies are "beginning to succeed" after what he conceded was a disappointing start.
In a spirited partisan political speech to which he added barbed attacks on House Democratic leaders Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (Mass.) and James C. Wright Jr. (Tex.), Reagan exhorted embattled Texas Republicans to "go all out" to help elect a Congress that will pass the rest of his conservative program in the coming two years.
He asked the Republicans at a campaign rally for Rep. James M. Collins, the underdog GOP challenger to Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, to try to recruit "rank-and-file Democrats who do not share the bigger-and-bigger-government-is-best philosophy of the Democratic leadership in Washington."
Arguing that "there's a little hypocrisy" in Wright's criticism of the balanced-budget constitutional amendment, Reagan said Wright "has been one of the prime leaders in increasing the budget . . . . He has made them bigger, with added spending, than the budgets I requested."
The president also compared House Speaker O'Neill to Pac-Man.
Saying he has been out of touch with recent national fads, Reagan ad-libbed that he had asked today what Pac-Man is, "and somebody told me it was a round thing that gobbles up money. I thought that was Tip O'Neill."
The president also noted: "Lest I be accused of exaggerating, or even being partisan," even Democrat "Teddy Kennedy warned that under Jimmy Carter America was sliding into the worst recession since the Great Depression. For once, we agree on something."
During his brief stop here en route back to Washington, Reagan moved away from his recent emphasis on debating the responsibility for rising unemployment to stress almost exclusively what he called his success in reducing inflation, interest rates and the tax bite, "despite the resistance of Democratic congressional leaders." It appeared to be a dress rehearsal for the "economic progress report" that aides say Reagan intends to give in a nationally televised speech Wednesday night.
"We have pulled America back from the edge of disaster," Reagan told several thousand people gathered on a wooded slope overlooking a manmade lake on a farm owned by the Collins family here, midway between Dallas and Fort Worth.
"Yes, I had hoped we would be further along by now, but make no mistake: we are better off than 20 months ago," the president said to enthusiastic applause. "The problems that were destroying America in 1980 are being confronted today, paving the way for recovery."
Unemployment in Texas has risen rapidly to 8.4 percent, the highest since monthly figures were first kept here in 1970; nationally, the rate is 10.1 percent. But Reagan instead stressed how he has done away with double-digit inflation and created new confidence in the financial community, which he said was evidenced by falling interest rates and a soaring stock market.
The president added that "it is tragic that the House leadership recessed to campaign, leaving so much unfinished business behind." He listed inner-city enterprise zones, tuition tax credits, regulatory reform and a crime-fighting package among the unfinished business, and again chastised Congress for voting down the balanced-budget amendment.
"Send us a Congress that will pass these programs so we can make this great country of ours No. 1 again," Reagan urged. "I intend to stay the course. I need your support . . . ."
Reagan also emphasized the Republicans' need to regain the support of Democrats who had voted for him in 1980.
Recent national polls have shown, however, that many--if not most--of the Reagan Democrats intend to return to the party fold in November. This could cost Republican Gov. Bill Clements his job, make it impossible for Collins to catch Bentsen, and ruin Republican hopes to increase the number of GOP seats in the state's 24-member delegation, or even hold on to the five seats Republicans won two years ago.
Clements, who has attempted to create lasting two-party politics in statewide elections, has been campaigning hard with an estimated $10 million bankroll and is believed to be narrowly leading Democratic State Attorney General Mark White. In 1978 Clements became the first Republican to win the governorship in 105 years, but his margin was fewer than 17,000 votes out of 2.35 million cast, with obvious Democratic support.
Collins, a 66-year-old millionaire who has represented a conservative Republican Dallas district for 14 years, is believed to be trailing far behind Bentsen, the top Senate fund-raiser between Jan. 1, 1981, and June 30, 1982, with $3.3 million in contributions.
Reagan claimed today that Collins "has put together a strong campaign" through his Dallas organization of right-wing activists and "has closed a big gap in a hurry." Stressing the themes of "self-reliance," "patriotism," and "belief in God" that Collins has translated into one of the most conservative voting records in Congress, Reagan added, "I believe in him."
But the president's aides have expressed little hope that Collins, who has a reputation as a do-nothing congressman with a weak statewide organization, can overtake Bentsen. They said Reagan was campaigning for him and some other likely GOP losers in November to keep a promise to GOP campaign officials to stump for a dozen candidates who need his help the most.
White House political strategists have said they believe appearances by Reagan could add 2 percentage points to the vote of a Republican candidate, which could make a difference in a tight race such as Clements'.