Democrat Michael Dukakis is blasting the Reagan administration for failing to `say no' to Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. Republican George Bush, after sniffing the Maine air, declared, "I'm the underdog and I like it."
Dukakis, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, ridiculed the administration over reports emerging in congressional hearings that the CIA allegedly made $200,000 payments to the military leader, who has been indicted in U.S. courts on drug charges.
Campaigning Friday in Albuquerque, N.M., Dukakis called on President Reagan, Bush or "someone in this administration" to provide an explanation of the CIA's alleged link to the Panamanian.
"We've been paying the guy what we pay the president of the United States," Dukakis said. "You can't be serious about waging a real war against drugs when you have an administration that can't say no to Noriega."
Bush, who is spending the week of the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting at his vacation retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, urged new negotiations to persuade Noriega to leave Panama, even though he earlier opposed those talks.
He denounced as "an outrageous lie" what he said was a reported suggestion that the administration held the talks to help his campaign.
"I don't like it being injected by Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson either. If they have some proof, or they have something other than insinuation, let them speak out," he said at a news conference Friday on the lawn of his family home.
Bush, who is meeting over the next week with advisers and prominent Republicans in an effort to renew his campaign, said he wasn't worried about polls showing him running behind Dukakis.
"I'm the underdog and I like it," he said. "It is May and the election is in November. Do I worry about it? I don't worry about it. I like fighting back . . . I remember Iowa."
He was referring to his loss to Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., in the Republican primary in Iowa, which Bush followed with a victory in New Hampshire.
The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll said Dukakis was leading Bush by a 53-40 percent margin among registered voters.
With the Atlantic surf pounding in the background, Bush told reporters, "It's the Maine air. When I get up here I feel - it's not feistiness - but I feel very relaxed. I don't feel troubled by somebody pointing out that I'm behind in the polls."
Meanwhile, an aide to Bush declined to comment on a report in today's editions of The Washington Post that Bush met privately with Attorney General Edwin Meese III earlier this month to discuss political ramifications of the attorney general's ongoing legal problems.
Citing unidentified sources, the newspaper said it could not be learned what Bush told Meese. Two Bush aides earlier this month called Meese a campaign liability, but the vice president denied he had authorized the statements.
Bush has wrapped up the Republican nomination, while Dukakis is looking toward primaries in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and Montana to clinch a victory over his remaining Democratic rival, Jesse Jackson.
Dukakis needs 2,081 delegates to win on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. He has 1,711 so far according to a tally by The Associated Press, while Jackson has 984 delegates. There are 466 at stake on June 7.
Dukakis left New Mexico Friday, stopping in Austin, Texas, for a barbecue with state Democratic leaders. He plans to campaign in New Jersey over the Memorial Day weekend, as does Jackson.
The two men met briefly Friday at the Albuquerque airport. They emerged smiling from a private session of about five minutes. Aides would not discuss what they said.