IOWA CITY, IOWA, DEC. 12 -- Vice President Bush, continuing to link his presidential candidacy with this week's summit, said the meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signal "a new level of openness" that bodes well for the new administration he hopes to lead.

Speaking at a foreign policy forum here today, Bush also said that, for all of Gorbachev's seemingly Western ways, he remains "an orthodox, committed Marxist and a formidable and determined competitor for world power."

Bush's prepared text went further in retreating from the aura of camaraderie that prevailed during the three-day summit, calling the Soviet leader "no friend of democracy." He did not use those words during his speech to about 200 people who offered polite applause at Iowa State University here today.

In a campaign swing through a succession of small towns in eastern Iowa today and Friday, Bush has concentrated almost exclusively on the gains of the summit, which he describes himself as having had an active role in.

He also predicted Senate ratification of the centerpiece treaty limiting intermediate and shorter-range nuclear-armed missiles, citing the support it has received from conservative Republican Sens. Alan K. Simpson (Wyo.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska).

Left unsaid was that Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole -- Bush's chief competitor in the Feb. 8 Iowa caucuses -- has withheld his endorsement of the treaty.

Katie Boyle, a Dole campaign spokeswoman in Washington, noted that Dole had not returned to the campaign trail and is "finishing up the business of Congress" before the holiday recess while "George Bush is out there milking the last bit" of publicity out of the summit.

"I think it helps him {Bush} about as much as Iran-contra hurt him," said Phyllis Kelly, a state central committee member who attended a Johnson County GOP holiday party at which Bush spoke.

"I feel like I've had the thing overanalyzed," added Betty Nolan, a lawyer from Iowa City.

But Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who accompanied Bush on what amounted to a tour of his congressional district in the southeastern corner of the state, sees good news for Bush out of the summit.

"To the degree that the Iowa caucuses are becoming a referendum on arms control, Bush is way ahead," he said.

During his two-day Iowa swing, Bush carried a letter he received from a 9-year-old girl from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, who asked for peace.

"The main thing is, we're reaching out and we're trying," he told a lunchtime audience at Mount Pleasant's Iowa Wesleyan College.

Bush also sought to distance himself from a disagreement between President Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz over how much progress was made on talks with the Soviets on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). At one stop, Bush said the administration ultimately "finessed" the discussion.

"I will artfully dodge the question because I want to be sure I know what was said," Bush responded to a question. "I don't have a dog in that fight . . . . I'm not sure I want one."