KINGSPORT, TENN., FEB. 27 -- In his first week of intensive campaigning through the South, Vice President Bush has resurrected the stump speech emphasizing education, ethics and arms control that he used last month before his defeat in the Iowa caucuses.
Although Bush had discarded the stump speech in his successful New Hampshire campaign -- some advisers said it was too vague and uninspiring -- he has delivered it repeatedly in stops through the South this week.
In New Hampshire, Bush, struggling to stop the slide in his candidacy, discarded much of what he had been saying for months and instead used a tightly focused series of attacks on rival Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). But he has now gone back criticizing Dole only indirectly.
Unlike in Iowa, where Bush was defeated by Dole and former television evangelist Pat Robertson, the vice president has been greeted by large crowds in a region where he holds a commanding lead in the polls a week before the March 8 "Super Tuesday" contests.
Political advisers to the vice president said he has brought back the old stump speech with a belief that the problem in Iowa was not so much the message but factors such as the depressed economy there and hostility to President Reagan. Bush also feels comfortable with the speech, they said.
In the South, Bush has stressed his loyalty to Reagan. He has also laced the old message with some new twists, such as an offhand "y'all" to students at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, S.C. And he has thrown in some patriotic tough talk about military and defense policy.
For example, he has celebrated the Grenada invasion and the attack on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and this week he also repeatedly criticized Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega, saying he had "gone bad" and should be replaced.
In South Carolina, Bush also tried to offset Dole's endorsement of a bill setting tighter restrictions on textile imports by saying the industry is doing better and does not need protectionist legislation. When asked why the administration had taken so long to respond to the textile industry's woes, Bush noted that William E. Brock, now Dole's campaign manager, had been trade representative at the time.
The vice president also made it a point this week to court fundamentalist Christian ministers in South Carolina wary of Robertson, who has a strong evangelical Christian backing. "I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal savior, always will," Bush told the ministers, some of whom are affiliated with Bob Jones University.
"I don't believe this religious community is monolithic and are all going to embrace one candidate," Bush said.
The criticism of Bush's Iowa stump speech, as voiced by some of his advisers as well as political allies, was that it lacked content and was often delivered in a disjointed way. This week, Bush has improved delivery but the content had not changed significantly. A senior Bush adviser said the vice president planned to add new proposals later.
Bush often begins the speech by saying, "I want to be the education president." He plugs a proposal to give tax breaks for college education savings and says he would use the White House to encourage excellence in education. Education is presented in the Bush speech as "the best answer to poverty, the best answer to opportunity."
At a news conference, Bush was asked what education policies he had been associated with while serving as vice president, and could not identify any in particular.
"The general support for the whole concept of educational excellence," he said. "It wasn't individual policy-oriented. You heard the president speak out on things, and be an executive vice president, but I can't say I identify with any specific educational goal."
Bush has also called in the speech for higher ethical standards in government, saying his career has been free from conflict of interest. But he has had difficulty explaining what his standards are when asked about specific cases of ethical lapses in the Reagan administration, such as questions raised recently about Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
Asked what he would do with a Cabinet member with Meese's problems, Bush said, "I'm not willing as vice president to involve myself in the Meese matter. I've answered it in terms of my own record in public life . . . . I have never been involved in any conflict of interest whatsoever."
Bush lamented that former labor secretary Raymond J. Donovan was "convicted in the eyes of the public by a whole lot of attention that I think now turns out to be unfair." Donovan was acquitted on racketeering charges after he resigned.
As a matter of "fair play," Bush said "an accusation later proved to be unfounded should not disqualify someone for service," but if a Cabinet member is indicted, he said, he or she should "step aside."