George Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, spelled out a "Southern strategy" here Saturday that he said would guarantee a Republican victory over Michael Dukakis in November.
Atwater said at a conference of Southern Republicans that they should use every weapon at their disposal to paint the Democratic nominee-to-be as a "wild-eyed" northern liberal whose policies and values are alien to the South.Almost chortling with glee, Atwater said it was "folly" for the Democrats to hold their nominating convention in Atlanta next week because it will dramatize the incompatibility between the Massachusetts governor and Southern voters.
"Every time this fellow Dukakis opens his mouth, he's going to ring up votes for us just like a cash register," Atwater said. "After Southerners get to know him, this guy couldn't get elected dog-catcher. . . . I'm almost willing to pay his way down here."
Atwater said Republicans should concentrate on "five or six gut, core issues" that are particularly important to Southern voters.
He identified them as Dukakis' stands on gun control, the pledge of allegiance, the death penalty, prison furloughs, national defense and taxes.
"If we hammer on those issues, we're going to win," he said.
The same tune was played by other Republican leaders at the two-day "Unity '88" rally.
Florida Gov. Bob Martinez said Dukakis' values "are alien to those of us who live in the South." He cited the death penalty and gun control as "hot-button issues in the South" that will turn voters away from the Democratic ticket in November.
"The more people in the South know about Michael Dukakis, the better George Bush is going to do," said Haley Barbour, Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi.
As ammunition, each of the 700 Republican activists at the conference received a 15-page "stock surrogate speech" and other material to use against the Democratic nominee-apparent back home.
They also got a slick pamphlet with a photograph on the cover of Dukakis holding hands with a favorite Southern bogeyman, Sen. Edward Kennedy, at the Massaschusetts Democratic convention last month. The pamphlet contained quotes and other information considered derogatory to the Democrats.
"The Dukakis record is something to hide from the American people," the forward to the pamphlet said. "It is soft on crime, weak on defense, naive on foreign policy, permissive toward drugs, strong on taxes, and it rejects traditional family values."
Atwater, normally a soft-spoken, behind-the-curtain political operator, used unusually harsh language to characterize the Democrats.
He dismissed Dukakis' objection to the death penalty for drug dealers, for example, saying, "You've got to burn some of them; Dukakis doesn't understand that."
Referring to the governor's struggle to balance the Massachusetts budget, Atwater scoffed: "If this guy is dumb enough to raise taxes in the middle of a campaign, what do you think he's going to do if he is president?"