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Gephardt Fends Off Simon, Dukakis Barbs; Dole Says He’s Close to the People

February 11, 1988

Undated (AP) _ Rep. Richard Gephardt fended off attacks from two Democratic presidential rivals on Wednesday as Republican Bob Dole extolled himself as ″a man who is closer to the people″ than Vice President George Bush.

Republican Pat Robertson turned aside questions about his religious broadcasting background and accused reporters of trying to ″get my goat.″

Bush spent the day in Washington, where he signaled his hopes for New Hampshire with a thumbs-up gesture to reporters. He joined the other five GOP candidates at a dinner in Nashua, N.H., where the rivals slammed Democratic policies and gently drew some distinctions among themselves.

Gephardt, the congressman from Missouri who came in first in Iowa, responded to bombs lobbed by the No. 2 finisher in Iowa, Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, and No. 3, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Gephardt focused on a Dukakis claim that Gephardt’s trade policies amount to ″putting a wall up around this country.″

Said Gephardt: ″Nobody is for protectionism.″

But, he added, ″There’s a lot of shoe workers and textile workers here in New Hampshire who don’t have jobs now because of unfair trade practices ... I want to know what he’s going to do to stand up for the rights of American workers and businesses.″

In Hampton, N.H., Simon hurled a charge of ″flip-flop″ against Gephardt on an issue sensitive in the state: the completed but unlicensed Seabrook nuclear plant. Dukakis, too, entered that fray, predicting New Hampshire’s electric rates will double or triple if the plant opens.

″I am pleased that Rep. Gephardt has become a strong advocate of nuclear safety, but his support would be more convincing had it been voiced more vigorously before he began his race for the White House,″ Simon told reporters. He spoke with the plant in the background.

That setting, Simon acknowledged, was a way of getting news media attention for a campaign that is running out of money.

″There is a money problem in my campaign,″ Simon said. ″There always has been in every one of my campaigns.″

Asked about Simon’s ″flip-flop″ charge, Gephardt said: ″I think he’s listening to some bad advice. I think Paul Simon knows I’ve had a strong environmental record.″

Gephardt also took umbrage at Simon’s accusation that he is late in converting to opposition on the Seabrook plant. ″I don’t want him questioning my motives. I don’t question his motives,″ he said.

Later in the day, Dukakis took note of the verbal carnage between Dole and Bush in recent weeks and said, ″I hope we will not slip into the kind of spectacle we’ve been seeing on the Republican side for the past four or five weeks ... bashing each other around.″

The reason for the three-way slugfest among Democrats became evident as new polls were released.

An ABC-Washington Post poll found support for Dukakis at 36 percent, Gephardt 22 percent and Simon 18 percent. The other Democrats had single-digit support.

The poll, conducted by telephone Tuesday, found Bush backed by 33 percent of the likely Republican voters surveyed in New Hampshire, Dole by 29 percent and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York by 12 percent. Robertson had 10 percent support, with the others in single digits.

Dukakis was choice of 44 percent of New Hampshire Democrats surveyed in a poll for WRC-TV in Washington. Locked in a battle for second place were Gephardt at 17 percent and Simon at 13 percent. The other Democrats trailed in single digits. The telephone survey of 400 registered Democratic voters, done Tuesday night, had a sampling error of 5 percent.

Jesse Jackson left New Hampshire for campaign stops in Alabama complaining that ″the media at this point chooses to project three Iowa caucus candidates″ - Gephardt, Dukakis and Simon - and ignore his own campaign.

Dole raised the federal deficit issue with senior citizens.

″Are we going to live the good life and leave them with the debt? No, we’re not going to do that. You don’t want to do that. We’re going to address the deficit. It’s not going to be pain and suffering for anybody, but a little belt tightening.″

As he has before, Dole portrayed himself as a common man, a contrast with Bush’s wealthy background.

″You’ve got to have a feel for real people,″ he told the senior citizens. ″I’m the underdog. Bush is the clear front-runner in this state. If you’re looking for a man who is closer to the people, a man who has been tested, vote for me.″

At several stops, Dole attacked Kemp for his votes on Social Security. It was a response to Kemp advertisements that charge Dole and Bush voted to cut Social Security.

For his part, Kemp helped out a barber and then bagged groceries in a New Hampshire supermarket. He also handed out a laundry list of tax increases he said Dole has supported - everything from cigarettes to life insurance.

″When he talks about the future, it’s time to grab your wallets,″ Kemp said.

Kemp picked up the endorsement Wednesday of The Concord Monitor. On the Democratic side, the newspaper picked Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore, who has not campaigned extensively in New Hampshire, concentrating instead on the South.

Robertson appealed for support in New Hampshire’s primary next Tuesday and said ″I’m on the winning edge″ there.

He cut off a reporter who asked him about his background as a television evangelist and said, ″I’ve answered certain religious questions give or take 500 times, so I really think this is just sort of an exercise reporters like to go through to see if they can get my goat.″

In other developments:

- A witness told a Senate subcommittee hearing that hours before the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983, Bush sent a warning to Cuba’s president Fidel Castro. Former Panamanian consul general Jose L. Blandon said Bush’s office called him and asked him to relay the warning to Castro through Panama’s military leader, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. Bush spokesman Stephen Hart characterized the statement as a total fabrication.

- Gary Hart insisted he was in the Democratic race to stay, whatever the outcome of New Hampshire. ″I’ve got a 50-state campaign and will go all the way,″ said Hart, who finished with less than 1 percent of the vote in Iowa.

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