BURLINGTON, MASS., NOV. 1 -- After pledging to take his harsh attack on Democrats around the country in the final days before next week's elections, President Bush today changed his mind -- at least temporarily.
In the first day of a six-day campaign swing that began here, Bush ignored the Democrats and instead promoted the GOP as the party that opposes crime and works for clean air and better child-care programs. "Our party is the party of change," Bush told a Republican fund-raising breakfast. He had virtually nothing to say about the Democrats.
Asked later if he had changed his mind about pummeling the Democrats, Bush said, "It's not a change of heart. I think I've made my point. I'd like to finish . . . on a positive note."
Bush also warned, however, that with four days until the election, "It's a little early to say there will not be any more flamboyant rhetoric" about the Democrats. And by the end of the evening, some Democrat-bashing had in fact returned to the president's prose.
The disappearance of "tax-and-spend" Democrats from the speech was notable in that they had only reappeared last week in the prominent rhetorical role they had in Bush's 1988 presidential campaign. For most of Bush's two years in office, he has concentrated on working with Democrats in Congress, not attacking them.
But in three speeches starting last Friday, Bush, reeling from political damage to the GOP from the budget accord, renewed a pointed attack on the Democrats in Congress, insisting they had forced him to accept tax increases as "ransom" for the spending cuts he wanted.
"After all, the Democrats' charge has always been, 'Tax and spend, and damn the deficit,' " he said. On Tuesday, at a Washington rally for campaign workers, Bush gave a distilled version of what aides said would be the campaign stump speech to close out this election cycle.
"To every Democrat who tried to raise income taxes . . . on every working American, and to every Democrat who's part of this Democratic spending binge, Americans say: 'We're not going to take it anymore,' " Bush declared in one typical section.
But White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said today the president decided "he didn't want to spend the next five days attacking the Democrats. He wanted to have a positive message on what Republicans stand for, what the successes of the past two years have been."
Fitzwater said the previous speech looked backward at the events of the last six months, while "the president wanted to be forward-looking, talk about the strengths of this party and the successes of the past two years." The fight for the crime bill and new clean air and child-care legislation are among those successes, he said.
Fitzwater acknowledged that Bush's advisers were not unanimous in how he should approach the campaign's ending days, with some
advocating an attack mode and others a positive theme.
One senior adviser in Washington said Bush had been given a strong case that the Republicans' major worry this election is as much that their base voters will stay home out of disgust as it is that swing voters will move into the Democratic camp. "If you're telling Republicans they have to show up and vote, you've got to tell them not just what to vote against, but what to vote for," the adviser said.