Pollsters and political experts crowned George Bush on Friday the victor in the last presidential debate and wondered whether Michael Dukakis' White House hopes collapsed in 90 minutes of televised talk.
But Dukakis refused to concede anything to either Bush or the experts, telling supporters in California, "This race is very, very close and it's going to get closer."Polls taken immediately after the second and last debate - 90 minutes of gentlemanly jabbing Thursday night in which Bush stood firm and Dukakis often seemed flat and subdued - gave the Republican vice president a clear victory.
The results, including an ABC poll that showed Bush the winner by 49-33 percent and a Los Angeles Times survey that gave Bush a 47-26 percent advantage, echoed around Washington, with some political strategists going so far as to suggest the race was over save for the shouting.
Republican strategist Pat Buchanan said, "I don't see where or how Dukakis stops what appears to be the state by state disintegration of his electoral base and George Bush locking up the so-called Republican South and West."
Respected Washington Post political writer David Broder, in an especially harsh analysis, said Dukakis missed "one opportunity after another to turn the course of the debate - and more importantly, his flagging campaign."
Noting Dukakis' missed chances at injecting passion into his bid to galvanize voters, Broder said the debate was close to a mismatch "in terms of the human dimension."
Dukakis trails Bush in most polls by about five percentage points.
Democratic analysts seemed to be grasping for straws as they tried to put a happy face on the debate, dis puting the pre-debate notion that Dukakis needed aknockout punch against Bush to carry his campaign forward.
Senior Dukakis adviser John Sasso said the Massachusetts governor, often ridiculed as a passionless clerk, projected a new softer image in the debate that would make the American people like him better.
Bob Beckel, who managed Democrat Walter Mondale's losing 1984 presidential bid, said, "Dukakis is still only five or six points behind in this race. There's still time for him to do it. But he is going to have to take this campaign to George Bush.
"I think Dukakis is going to have to turn the heat up on George Bush, and my guess is Bush is probably going to turn it down a little bit now on Dukakis."
Republican Buchanan agreed, saying, "George Bush is looking presidential now. He's looking like a winner. The country's about to elect him, I think."
The two candidates on Friday campaigned in different parts of California, whose 47 electoral votes are the biggest prize in the presidential sweepstakes.
"The vice president was right on target and quite persuasive," President Reagan, one of an estimated 100 million people who watched the debate on television, said from the White House. "It's become increasingly clear that the American people should elect George Bush in November."
Bush, 64, went into the debate with a wide lead in projected electoral votes. The most recent projections gave Bush a solid hold on 220 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, with another 180 leaning his way. Fewer than 100 lined up for Dukakis in the same poll.
"I am very happy about the way it came out," Bush said Thursday night. "I am very happy about the way things went."
"Tomorrow (Friday) we start the home stretch, the home stretch of this campaign. I want you to know I intend to work hard, run hard and to fight hard on the issues and I intend to win the great state of California," Bush said.
Dukakis, standing in a Beverly Hills hotel in front of a sign that said "A Clean Sweep," offered that "this race is very, very close, and it's going to get closer after tonight."
The Dan Quayle factor did not play in this debate. Bush's running mate was scolded by his Democratic counterpart, Lloyd Bensten, last week for comparing his congressional experience to that of the late John Kennedy.
Bush said he was proud to have the Indiana senator on his ticket in spite of Democratic accusations that the 41-year-old Quayle does not have the experience, competence or intelligence to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Opinion polls say that significant public doubts about Quayle's capabilities have cost Bush about two or three points in matchups against Dukakis.
Dukakis, who saw his support rise following the Quayle-Bentsen debate, said Bush's choice of Quayle reflected a serious misjudgment in decision making. But no followup questions were asked, and the issue faded quickly.
The two men went over their differences in a basic repeat of their first debate Sept. 25 in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bush favoring the death penalty, Dukakis against. Bush calling for restrictions on abortion, Dukakis saying it should be a woman's decision. Bush favoring new nuclear arms, Dukakis preferring to beef up conventional forces. Bush vowing not to raise taxes, Dukakis saying that was a hollow promise.
Bush, asked if he had anything nice to say about Dukakis during what has been a bitter campaign, said he appreciated the governor's love of family and his Greek heritage.
Dukakis, asked his response, thanked Bush for not using the opportunity to call him leftist or liberal _ a favorite theme of Bush, who portrays his rival as out of step with mainstream America. But Dukakis did not offer any praise for Bush, refusing to accept the olive branch.