Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush is planning a slight course correction in his campaign, although his chief strategist, Karl Rove, thinks Mr. Bush will win on the issues he has been stressing. In a telephone interview, Mr. Rove told me Mr. Bush will immediately forsake large rallies in favor of smaller, more intimate gatherings. He will showcase people who would be positively affected by his proposals on health care, retirement and Social Security reform. Mr. Rove said while the Bush campaign is ready to accept more than one of the presidential commission debates, he thinks Mr. Bush is in a good position to ask for and receive a different format. Mr. Bush prefers that he and Mr. Gore sit on either side of a moderator and "go at it" without rigid time limits. Confident of victory, Mr. Rove told me his feelings are identical to September 1994, "when we were seven points behind an incumbent and popular Democratic governor (Ann Richards)." Mr. Rove said new television ads will be running in every key battleground state by the end of this week. They will not only again raise the character question about Mr. Gore but also assert the Bush campaign's view that seniors will pay more if the Gore health plan is adopted, because it costs $600 per senior just to access the Gore plan "and half of all seniors have less than $575 in annual drug expenses." According to Mr. Rove, that means a $600 fee on top of co-pay and insurance premiums before the plan kicks in. He dismissed Mr. Gore's drug plan as "Hillary-care" and noted the public and a Democratic Congress in 1993 rejected a system run from Washington that would have dictated to everyone, including seniors, where and how they would receive medical treatment. A disgruntled, if not dissenting, view is heard from former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.). A conservative who consistently won House and Senate elections in a liberal-leaning state, Mr. Armstrong told me that "anyone who thinks a prescription-drug plan for seniors is the center of this election will never vote for Bush because Gore promises more." Mr. Bush should talk about education, advised Mr. Armstrong, but not make it a central theme. Mr. Armstrong thinks it's time for Mr. Bush to take off the gloves. "The Clinton-Gore administration is the most corrupt administration since Caligula," he said. He's not talking only about sex but the litany of scandals involving the Justice Department and campaign cash, the Commerce Department and those "trade missions" for big contributors (what was really traded?); the disappearance of American military secrets and the weakening of our military. Prime issues for Mr. Bush, suggested Mr. Armstrong, should be "the loss of our nuclear secrets and our military readiness and force modernization in a dangerous world that will grow more dangerous if we grow weaker and weaker." But isn't this the kind of "angry politics" the public doesn't want? "I see it as a call to idealism," answered Mr. Armstrong. "The heart of America will respond to an idealistic message. There are some issues the public longs to hear about. Ronald Reagan put it better than anybody when he said, 'I'm not going to Washington to make friends with the alligators. I'm going to drain the swamp.' He was not completely successful in doing that, but he had the right notion. We need somebody to again go to Washington and drain the swamp." The Republican Congress hasn't helped Mr. Bush by endorsing the tax-and-spend mentality of the Democrats. Concluded Mr. Armstrong, "Republican leaders in Congress are increasingly shoveling money into programs they should have choked to death years ago." More than ever the two parties appear identical to the public. Contrasts win elections-or lose them. Mr. Bush needs to draw sharp distinctions between himself and Mr. Gore and enumerate the disastrous results that will occur if Mr. Gore is elected. Forget polls about people wanting "civility." That talk is for losers, and if Mr. Bush doesn't start lobbing mortars instead of cream puffs at Mr. Gore, he'll be one.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate