PORTSMOUTH, N.H., FEB. 11 -- His presidential hopes hanging in the balance, Vice President Bush went for the jugular today in his battle against Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) with an entirely new speech describing Dole as the leader of a Congress that is "out of control" and in "chaos."
"The old saying up on the Hill is, to get along, you go along," Bush told a small group of senior citizens. Bush blamed Dole for everything from the huge federal deficit to "micromanaging" foreign policy and encouraging foreign leaders to "think they can say and do anything and get away with it."
For the first time, Bush dropped all pretense of criticizing Dole indirectly, as he has before. He called the senator's proposed spending freeze a "cop out," for example, that "will freeze in stupid and wasteful spending."
The vice president blended his fierce attack on Dole with fresh introspection about himself, acknowledging that he is not an "eloquent" speaker and quoting Abraham Lincoln: "Here I stand, warts and all." After a frenzied night of planning, Bush also unveiled a more visually oriented, direct-to-the-voters campaign style, driving a forklift in a New Hampshire lumberyard and steering a mammoth truck around Cuzzin Richie's truck stop near here.
The speech and "photo opportunities" are the result of a last-ditch attempt to salvage Bush's candidacy in the final four days before the New Hampshire primary as polls show the vice president in a dead-heat battle with Dole here. Once a formidable leader in New Hampshire, Bush is struggling to stave off a defeat that could knock the legs out from under the rest of his campaign.
Bush has all but scrapped what his advisers concede was an ill-focused and poorly delivered message in the Iowa campaign, where Bush suffered a humiliating third-place defeat, trailing Dole and Pat Robertson. Former White House speech writer Peggy Noonan, who crafted the vice president's announcement address, flew to New Hampshire yesterday and helped pull together Bush's new speech. Campaign sources said Noonan has earned Bush's trust and was instrumental in persuading him to mount a fresh rhetorical offensive against Dole.
Working with pollster Robert Teeter, chief of staff Craig Fuller and media consultant Roger Ailes, Noonan prepared a speech that followed general themes Bush had set out earlier but which was far more explicit in painting Dole as a creature of the Congress.
The renewed Bush drive was not without glitches, however. He delivered his speech so late in the day that it was not covered on some local news broadcasts. It also contained some abrupt shifts in positions that Bush did not explain; on Wednesday, he endorsed the idea of a "flexible" spending freeze, but today harshly criticized it. And the conviction of former White House political aide Lyn Nofziger on charges of illegal lobbying focused attention anew on the record of ethical lapses by Reagan administration officials, clouding Bush's intended message that he would not tolerate unethical behavior.
In the wake of the Iowa defeat, Bush advisers have been more open in acknowledging that the candidate failed to deliver an effective message there. For example, Bush told his Iowa audiences that he wanted to be the "education president," but then reminded them that the federal government contributes only seven percent of the nation's spending on education.
Bush also spoke in undecipherable jargon. For example, he told one Iowa high school assembly that the new Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union included "intrusive verification procedures" and "asymmetrical reductions," which many of the students failed to understand.
Even on the ethics issue, Bush presented a fuzzy picture to Iowa voters. He insisted that no one would come to his administration to profit, only to serve. But he refused to say anything publicly about the troubles of Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who is being investigated by a federal grand jury. To the discomfort of some of his advisers, Bush went further and offered a defense of former labor secretary Raymond J. Donovan, who was acquitted of racketeering charges. Bush's advisers questioned this move since Bush was trying to convince voters that he would attract the best people to public service.
Privately, sources said Bush is frustrated and angry, particularly about the Meese example, feeling that the attorney general has not met a high standard of ethical behavior. But the sources said Bush is unwilling to go public and criticize Meese or urge his resignation.
The day after his Iowa defeat, Bush lost valuable time trying to refocus his message in New Hampshire. On his first day of campaigning here, he appropriated Dole's Iowa slogan, saying "I'm one of you" eight times in a speech, then claimed later that he was trying to be funny. His aides were depressed and argued among themselves about how to recover.
Bush has had trouble delivering a coherent speech, often running his sentences together. For example, on Wednesday, he said to Hopkinton High School students:
"I don't know whether your history teaches you back into the early days of the Korean War and that kind of thing, but there was an old tough guy named Yakov Malik at the United Nations and I was the U.N. ambassador then -- I started dealing with the Soviets about then -- 1971, 1972."
Today, Bush spoke slowly and carefully from a prepared text. Campaign sources said that Bush's main hope of winning New Hampshire is to distinguish himself from Dole in the final days before Tuesday's primary, which was the goal of the new speech and of new television advertising that Bush will air this weekend.
"Congress isn't the real world," Bush told the elderly group here. "They don't decide, it's all one long continuing resolution. They pass the bills that make the constituencies happy -- the pig farmers get baby pig development grants. Districts that wish they had a river get a bridge.
"In case you forgot, passing a decent budget is Congress' job," Bush said. "They're so out of control that they haven't passed a balanced budget in years. . . . This is a failure you can lay right at the door of the congressional leadership.
"Bob Dole, my opponent, says the answer here is a freeze," he added. "Freeze spending now, right across the board. It sounds good, has some merit to it. A nice clean answer, but I don't think it's a good answer. I think that kind of freeze is a bad answer . . . . A freeze will freeze in all those studies of pigs and mating habits of butterflies."
Bush ignored -- as he has in the past -- the role of his administration in the deficits of the last seven years. President Reagan has never submitted a budget in which he proposed to pay for all the services he wanted.
Referring to the "chaos" in congressional handling of foreign policy, Bush said:
"You got 535 secretaries of state up there with their own briefcases and their own agenda. The American people see that. All of them running around hauling people in to testify about where you were on the night of the 23rd -- the world outside observes and loses faith. Our chaos does not go unnoticed around the world. There are foreign leaders who think they can say and do anything and get away with it."
Bush then took note of recent disclosures about Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who is the subject of congressional testimony this week. Bush said Noriega "appears to have gone bad" with his involvement in international drug smuggling, and Bush vowed that he would not be "threatened" by Noriega. Bush issued fresh denials that he asked Noriega to warn Cuban dictator Fidel Castro about the impending 1983 Grenada invasion.
The hard edges of Bush speech's were tempered by a soft-spoken personal reflection. "I have a tendency, and I confess to it, to avoid going on and on with great eloquent statements of belief," he said. "Some are better at that than I am." But he said he remains passionate about running for president and "I'm working my heart out" in New Hampshire.
Bush said his mother still calls him when critics attack him during the campaign. "I don't like the things they're saying about you, George," the vice president quoted her as saying. He added, "It's a mother to her little boy still." The reference was well-received by the small, elderly audience.
The vice president also introduced a new closing pitch, saying of his hoped-for inauguration next year, "When I raise my hand, I intend to be thinking of four words -- thank you, New Hampshire!"