At a rally in Tulsa last Wednesday, Vice President Bush turned from the presidential race to the local congressional contest between Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.) and Republican Frank Keating.
"Make no mistake about it," Bush said, pounding the lectern, "it's Reagan, Bush and Keating. Or Walter F. Mondale, Geraldine A. Ferraro and Jones. You can have your pick. I'll go with Keating."
The next morning Bush was the star attraction at a $1,000-a-plate breakfast to raise money for Keating that drew about 50 people. Keating then flew to Washington with Bush on Air Force Two for a photo session with President Reagan in the Rose Garden.
Bush's support for Keating is a dramatic example of the vice president's efforts in nearly every state where he campaigns. Such support reflects rising Republican confidence that victory in the presidential race can extend to congressional races. Democrats now hold 266 House seats compared with 167 held by Republicans. Two seats are vacant.
In Athens, Ga., last Monday, Bush, who with President Reagan has made more than 60 television commercials for GOP candidates, said Republican political strategists are focusing on winning congressional races.
"I think there is a focus on the chance that we may . . . do better in the House than we had thought," Bush said.
A Reagan-Bush political adviser in Washington said Bush has been chosen as the key administration figure to promote and raise funds for GOP congressional candidates.
The adviser said he believes that there is a chance for a landslide for the president on Nov. 6 and that the party should be positioned to take advantage of it by "bringing along the House, maybe taking the whole kit and caboodle."
"That's what we didn't do the last time," he said, "and this time we know how popular the president is. We would be negligent if we didn't make a strong push at the House."
Republicans, who lost 26 seats in the 1982 House races, are hoping to win back between 15 and 25 in this election on the strength of Reagan and Bush's performance at the top of the ticket.
At nearly every stop in the past few weeks, Bush has appeared with local Republican congressional candidates. Last Sunday in Ohio, for example, at the Cuyahoga County Republican picnic, Bush made a point of frequently referring to Matt Hatchadorian, the Republican candidate running against Rep. Edward F. Feighan, a first-term Democrat.
In recent speeches, too, Bush has sharpened his focus on House races. He has begun making uncharacteristically personal attacks on House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.), personifying him as the enemy Republicans and President Reagan seek to unseat in Congress.
"Tip is a pretty big guy and we've got to lift him up and move him over," Bush said last week, pretending to hoist a weight as he told a Republican crowd in Indianapolis to support local congressional candidates.
Hearing snickers in the crowd at the mention of O'Neill's name, Bush said, "I see some of you feel about Tip the way I do."
Bush told the crowd that electing more Republicans to the House would provide Reagan with the "votes to get the job done," enabling him to gain approval for his budget-cutting proposals and thereby helping to erase the federal budget deficit.
Bush, like Reagan, has said in recent weeks that Congress must take responsibility for the deficit because it did not approve the president's entire budget plan.
In Oklahoma Bush said that the Reagan administration, if reelected, can make progress only through the election of more Republicans to the House.
"The biggest difference in the world between Frank Keating and his opponent," Bush said, "is Frank Keating will vote with us and his opponent, by definition, has to vote for Tip O'Neill and just wipe out everything Oklahoma believes in."
Television advertisements for congressional candidates featuring Reagan and Bush are being broadcast in 112 metropolitan areas. The ads end: "Vote Republican and Keep Taxes Down."