Michael Dukakis, contending he's catching up in major states, said Thursday he's ready for a dash to the finish line as voters take "a very strong second look at me." Front-runner George Bush defended his campaign against suggestions of racism.

Five days from the election, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts and the Republican vice president took advantage of invitations to appear on morning network television programs to press their cases.On NBC's "Today," Bush was asked about Democratic suggestions that his campaign had a racist tinge in that his speeches and commercials have emphasized the case of a black Massachusetts convict who escaped while on furlough and attacked a Maryland couple.

"There is no bigotry," Bush said. "I oppose that furlough program . . . but to go out as my opponent did . . . and try to assign me something that is not in my heart, this charge of racism, is grossly unfair and untrue."

"I don't have one ounce of bigotry in my body, nor does my running mate," he said. "Even though a lot of civil rights leaders automatically endorse whoever the Democratic candidate is, I think most of them know in their hearts that I am a decent honorable person who cares about race relations and will leave the tired baggage of bigotry behind."

Dukakis, in an interview on "CBS This Morning," shrugged off national polls showing him well behind, saying that "we are either tied or moving ahead" in major states he needs to score an upset victory.

He said 20 percent to 30 percent of voters have not finally decided for whom to vote, and he contended that as decision time nears they "are taking a very strong second look at me."

Dukakis, celebrating his 55th birthday Thursday, said, "This one is going to go down to the wire. . . . We're sprinting for the finish line and we hope and expect that we're going to win."

Later, in Fairless Hills, Pa., Dukakis outlined a proposal for a federal, state and local alliance to combat drug use in the nation's schools.

At a town meeting in Pennsbury High School, he said his President's Alliance Against Drugs "will set for its goal drug-free schools in the 1990s in every community in the United States."

He called for community advisory councils to coordinate local efforts, including educators, parents, children, business, sports and media leaders, with special grants targeting "high-risk kids and high-risk communities."

With the race for the White House down to less than a week, the campaigns were bringing out their final TV ads, including one in which President Reagan asks viewers to "vote Republican up and down the ticket to continue the change we began in 1981."

The Democrats contend in a new ad that they are the party of average working people while under the Republicans millions of U.S. jobs were "shipped to workers overseas."

Dukakis, in Chicago on Wednesday, assailed the Republicans' recent claim on Harry Truman's memory. "Have they no shame?" he asked.

With Democrat Dukakis taking full advantage of national television interview invitations, Bush tossed another barb loaded with "the L word," or liberal label.

"It seemed like he appeared on every television show except `Wheel of Fortune,"' Bush joked. "You see, he was afraid that Vanna might turn over the `L' word." Vanna White is hostess on the popular game show.

Still, Dukakis' television appearances prompted Bush to accept several of his own, including 30 minutes live on NBC's "Today" show Thursday.

The campaign grew more heated for the vice presidential candidates. Democrat Lloyd Bentsen blasted Bush for selecting Dan Quayle as his running mate. The choice, Bentsen said in Illinois, showed "a real disdain, disregard for our country."

Quayle found himself caught up anew in a controversy over abortion.

While he ardently opposes abortion, even in cases of rape, Quayle told questioners he had no quarrel with a medical procedure known as dilation and curettage, or D-and-C, and said it would prevent conception if performed soon after rape.

The medical procedure is considered by many in the field of gynecology as a means of terminating a pregnancy.

Questions about abortion have hounded Quayle in recent days, particularly following his suggestion to a 12-year-old girl that she should go ahead and give birth in a theoretical situation in which she was raped by her father and became pregnant.

Dukakis, with fatigue from his frenetic pace showing in his voice, campaigned with Jesse Jackson in Philadelphia late Wednesday night, where the former Democratic candidate received a rousing reception.

Dukakis, introduced by Jackson, sparked the crowd at Martin Luther King High School when he stressed his anti-apartheid theme.

"Nelson Mandela is still in jail and Manuel Noriega is still running Panama. It's time that changed," Dukakis said.

He earlier unleashed some of his harshest rhetoric yet, blasting Bush for anti-drug efforts and saying a day before that he would not necessarily halt aid to nations that refuse to cooperate with U.S. anti-drug effort.

"If you're against us, don't expect a dime of American foreign aid," Dukakis said.

"I'll work with other countries, but I'll be damned if I will allow those countries to send their poison into the United States of America," Dukakis said. "Maybe (Bush) thinks there are other things more important than the future of our children. . . . I say you have to draw the line somewhere."

Bush spokesman Mark Goodin, responding to Dukakis' comments, said the Democratic nominee has distorted the GOP nominee's position on the issue.

"The vice president would never hesitate to use aid as a lever on the war on drugs," Goodin said.