Underdog Michael Dukakis, saying late polls are confirming the presidential campaign surge he claims, is "sprinting for the finish line" against George Bush as the leader maintains he "will not be outhustled at the end."
Both men are covering much of the same territory as they battle to the wire for last-minute support, with Dukakis moving Friday from New York to Kentucky to Illinois after a day in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. Bush traveled to Connecticut and Michigan after a day in Ohio and Illinois.President Reagan, meanwhile, was bound for Illinois and New Jersey on behalf of Bush, urging voters to put their trust in the hands of his vice president.
The latest polls released Thursday included a California survey that showed Dukakis gaining slightly on Bush and a New York assessment that found him slipping a little, but the Massachusetts governor rejected all judgments showing him still far behind his Republican rival.
In fact, in Newark, N.J., he told supporters internal polling shows the race significantly tighter in their own state as well as in Texas and California. "It's out there," he declared at a hastily arranged airport rally. "The tide is moving for us."
Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., stood beside him and proclaimed, "Democrats are coming home for Michael Dukakis," and his campaign chairman, Paul Brountas, denied that an upturn at this point would be too late for his candidate.
"No, absolutely not," Brountas told reporters. "This is the right dynamics in the last several days of the campaign."
Moving into Connecticut on a Naugatuck Valley political swing reminiscent of John Kennedy's final White House campaign stretch 28 years ago, Dukakis vowed to "surprise the pollsters and the pundits" come Election Day.
For months Dukakis has drawn parallels with Kennedy, who as a Massachusetts senator beat Republican Vice President Richard Nixon by a mere 112,000 votes.
"Remember 1960 and another son of Massachusetts who came to this valley!" he hoarsely urged an enthusiastic crowd of about 3,000 who repeated history by waiting for him in the cold on the same street outside Ansonia's City Hall.
Bush brushed aside such historical comparisons, again deriding the Democrat for claiming the liberal mantle of Kennedy and former Presidents Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt.
"I honestly believe my opponent's vision is too narrow to encompass the great names of the Democratic Party of the past," Bush told nearly 4,000 students at Bloom Township High School in Chicago's southwest suburbs.
"He is out of the mainstream," the vice president argued. "What I'm asking people for on November 8 is not only a victory but a mandate from America's mainstream."
Bloom Township marked the site of Bush's third rally in two days at a high school, where many of the students are not old enough to vote but provide colorful welcomes that make it on the nightly television news programs.
Bush, aware of his lead in the polls, told reporters again Thursday that overconfidence had not taken hold in his campaign. Asked if aides had told him the election essentially is finished, he replied at one point, "They sure have not. They better not or they would be history."
Craig Fuller, his chief of staff, appeared to bolster that stance when he was asked why Bush has spent several days in the Midwest, which appears solid for the Republicans.
"We are looking for areas that are soft where another visit by the vice president might make a difference. Illinois is soft," Fuller said bluntly.
Meanwhile, the Bush campaign announced late Thursday that the eighth person connected with the vice president's ethnic council had resigned his post following reports of ties to Nazi or anti-Semitic groups.
In Washington, Bush spokesman Mark Goodin confirmed reports that during World War II Akselis Mangulis had been a member of the Latvian Legion, a group which had connections to the German SS, the quasi-military unit of the Nazi Party. Mangulis had been chairman of Latvians for Bush.