HOUSTON — WHEN it comes to the fall campaign, don't necessarily count on dramatic new initiatives from the Bush campaign. Look instead, says President Bush's campaign manager, for an aggressive effort to convince Americans that Mr. Bush already has a "clear game plan" to pull the country out of the economic doldrums.
"If he comes forth with only that plus a renewed attack on spending, that in itself, put together in a way that demonstrates understanding and a clear game plan, will have political vitality," said campaign manager Fred Malek, speaking at a Monitor breakfast Aug. 17.
The game plan consists largely of various tax incentives, including a tax cut for first-time homeowners that Mr. Bush laid out in his state of the union message last January.
But, according to a recent New York Times poll, only 23 percent of Americans know such a plan exists despite repeated references to it in presidential speeches since January.
"It's been frustrating not to be able to get the message out adequately," says Mr. Malek, who explains that the long presidential campaign has made it hard get through to the American people. "It's been tough to really break through the clutter."
Paradoxically, it may be easier for Bush to be heard as candidate than as president, Malek says.
Bush formally begins his campaign with a five-day trip immediately after the convention.
Beyond his blueprint for recovery, Bush's chief asset remains his experience, character, and four years of testing as president, Malek says. "It's that composite of characteristics that the people are going to vote on."
Asked why economically distressed voters should give the president a second chance, Malek says the end of the cold war - the defining circumstance of his first term - will give Bush the opportunity he hasn't had to focus on domestic policy.
"He has addressed many of these [domestic economic] issues in his first term," says Malek. "The difference is that now we have the world community in much better shape than when he took office.... He can now can put more focus on [them]."
Malek says the imminent arrival of Secretary of State James Baker III, who will take over next week as White House chief of staff, will help centralize decisionmaking authority that until now has been divided between the White House and the campaign.
"He knows how to run a campaign, and he knows how to run a White House, and I think he'll bring the two together in a very good fashion," says Malek.