The Republican National Committee has commissioned a major poll "to assess personal and job-related perceptions of" Vice President Bush, provoking angry protests from his probable competitors for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) charged yesterday that the poll, which cost an estimated $40,000 to $60,000, violates GOP rules that the RNC be completely neutral.
"I didn't know that the RNC had become a Bush headquarters," Dole said.
Former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr., a prospective candidate, said, "I'm surprised and, if this is true, someone ought to be fired."
"This is a slam-dunk of a violation" of federal election law, said James Cannon, who runs Baker's Republican Majority Fund.
Accompanying the poll is a cover letter describing it as being financed by the RNC with three purposes, including an examination "of voter support for Vice President George Bush in both the primary and general elections for president in 1988."
William Greener, the committee's political director, said this description is inaccurate and that the RNC and Bush entered into a complex arrangement under which the committee will pay only for those portions of the poll that relate to general issues and job performance.
The remaining part of the poll, which specifically tests Bush's political strength compared with that of his probable competitors, will be paid for by Bush's political action committee, the Fund for America's Future, according to Greener and to Robert Teeter, who conducted the poll.
Teeter, who runs Market Opinion Research, supports Bush.
After an afternoon of private meetings to discuss how the poll was developed, Teeter, Greener and other Bush backers provided the following description of its origins.
Initially, they said, Teeter contracted with the RNC for a poll testing voters' views of many public figures, including leading candidates for the 1988 presidential nomination.
Then Bush and RNC Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. discussed the poll and Bush asked that questioning on terrorism and international trade be added. The cost of these questions would be paid by the RNC.
Later, Teeter, along with Lee Atwater, a consultant supporting Bush, and William Phillips, then Fahrenkopf's chief of staff, agreed to add a series of directly political questions about Bush for which Bush's political action committee would pay, in a process called "piggy-backing."
In the time since that arrangement, Phillips left the RNC to become executive director of the Fund for America's Future, Bush's PAC.
Teeter said that the copy of the poll obtained by The Washington Post inaccurately is described as a poll commissioned by the RNC. He said that the description was a clerical error and that the copy was, in fact, the version that was provided to Bush's PAC.
The 82-page document is designed to explore Bush's strengths and weaknesses with the Republican primary electorate and the broader general electorate, to rate him against Dole, Baker and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), and to examine how Bush can use such issues as terrorism and international trade to build support for his prospective candidacy.
The document is not only a political assessment of Bush, but also a campaign strategy paper. It says:
"It is very important as the 1988 campaign begins and President Reagan's term comes to a close to define just how perceptions of Bush and Reagan are related, where there are differences and how Bush can both take advantage of public good will toward Reagan and begin to develop his own image."
Teeter said yesterday that a very different version of the poll will be provided to the RNC. The cost, he said, will be about $75,000, but he added that he could not estimate how the RNC and Bush's PAC will share this expense.