Michael Dukakis fought to make up ground on George Bush Saturday, declaring he has reduced crime in his home state through a commitment "right out of my gut" while Bush merely postures in TV ads. Bush, leading with just over three weeks to go, told reporters, "I'm not going to mess up."
Dukakis received endorsements from Hispanic law-enforcement groups in Los Angeles and spoke at a rally there before flying to Texas for more campaigning. Bush, accompanied by Hollywood actors and two of the Beach Boys singing group, led a bus tour of rallies in seven California cities.Dukakis' running mate, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, said Saturday that despite polls showing Republican gains, "the momentum is ours." But he also brought up a story generally cited only by political longshots - the 1948 newspaper headline incorrectly declaring Republican Thomas Dewey had defeated Democratic underdog Harry Truman.
"I can't help but remember Harry Truman out there when the press had written him off," Bentsen told a crowd at a farmers' market in St. Louis.
Bush's running mate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, campaigned in Wisconsin, telling cheering supporters in Eau Claire and Appleton that the state "is going for George Bush."
At the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, he ran into demonstrators carrying signs questioning his military record. He brushed past them, saying, "See you after the election."
Dukakis has been striking back aggressively since Thursday night's debate, an encounter that polls indicate put him farther behind Bush.
He also has been hurt by tough Bush television ads accusing him of presiding over a Massachusetts prisoner-furlough system that gave a weekend pass to a murderer who later attacked a Maryland couple.
Dukakis said little about such charges for weeks but now addresses them vigorously and at length.
On Saturday, he called Bush "cynical and hypocritical" for seeking political gain from what Dukakis calls a tragic incident.
He spoke of murders in California by inmates on furlough during Ronald Reagan's governorship. And he said that while Bush has been vice president there have been thousands of federal prison furloughs and an incident last year in which an inmate on furlough raped and murdered a mother of two in Arizona.
Dukakis also speaks of a murder and rape committed by a man who escaped from a Houston halfway house Bush supported.
The governor said that he and Reagan took responsibility for their programs but that Bush has refused to take blame for his failures.
"Talk versus action, TV commercials versus results, that's what we're dealing with here," Dukakis said, comparing Bush and himself.
He noted his state's 14 percent decline in the rate of major crime, and its lowest homicide rate among industrial states. That progress, he said, resulted from his personal involvement in a statewide anti-crime council.
"I didn't learn my lessons about crime from a Clint Eastwood movie," he told the law-enforcement officers. "I've been out there with you."
"This is an issue that is very close to me," he said. "It comes right out of my gut."
Bush, who like Dukakis has been in California all week, campaigned Saturday with actors Telly Savalas and Chuck Norris and singers Mike Love and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys.
He told reporters aboard his campaign plane that he was going to "go the extra mile to fight hard" in the final 24 days of the race and wouldn't "mess up."
"We're going to take the high road and leave the pessimism and the tearing down of America to somebody else," he said.
"Here we go . . . entering the home stretch of this national presidential election," Bush declared at a noisy kickoff rally in an airport hangar in Modesto.
He is pushing for an advantage in California, where the election is still considered too close to call. In particular, he is trying to energize Republicans and to keep the support of Democrats who may have dropped their allegiance in order to vote for Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
Dukakis also attended a tribute to Jesse Jackson early Saturday, praising his former Democratic rival and joking about a controversy that temporarily strained their relationship.
"I didn't know anything about the celebration until today," Dukakis said in brief remarks after he arrived at the party just after midnight. "Jesse was supposed to call me early this morning but he never made the call."
The crowd of about 150 people clapped politely.