Bush Faces Need To Sell Voters On Domestic Plan

Polls show Bush behind in three key states. CHURCHILL SYNDROME

NEARLY 50 years ago, a great British prime minister, Winston Churchill, was celebrating the world's historic triumph over Nazism when he got a sudden surprise: The voters at home, unhappy with his domestic policies, threw him out of 10 Downing Street.

As the American presidential campaign moves into the final eight weeks after Labor Day, George Bush, victorious in an equally challenging struggle against communism, hopes to avoid Sir Winston's political fate.

The dangers and the parallels, however, are clear. Jeffrey Bell, a Republican author, says the end of the cold war has devalued Mr. Bush's foreign-policy successes, just as Sir Winston's victory did.

"Attention has turned to domestic issues," Mr. Bell says, and once that happened, "immediately Bush began to fall in support. It is like the Winston Churchill syndrome, for the public is future-oriented. They don't want to know what you just did for them," but what you will do next.

Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin makes a similar, urgent point for the beleaguered president.

"He has to show where he will take the country," Dr. Wirthlin says. "Americans want to know where leaders are going...."

The difficulty of Bush's task and its urgency were shown over the holiday weekend with three new polls from key swing states. The president is trailing his Democratic foe, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, by 2 points in Texas, 4 points in Connecticut, and 10 points in Ohio.

Shaking off their concerns, Republicans are hopeful it will be another Briton, the current prime minister, John Major, who will be the model for this year's presidential campaign. Mr. Major was well behind this spring on the eve of the British election. But he befuddled the pundits by overtaking his Labour Party opponents in the final 48 hours.

Sir Alan Walters, a former economics adviser to Margaret Thatcher's government in London, says Major's victory hinged on spending and taxes - which coincidentally are two of Bush's top issues.

If the president can create enough concern among voters that Governor Clinton will sharply raise taxes on the middle class, then the tide of the American election could turn overnight, Republicans say.

Although Clinton leads in the polls, Brookings scholar Stephen Hess says that this is still a campaign Bush should win.

Dr. Wirthlin agrees that "never before would poll numbers be as poor a predictor as they are at this particular moment."

Yet Bush is struggling. Wirthlin's research shows that when compared with Clinton, President Bush does well on tests of integrity, honesty, and strength.

Bush has a very serious problem, however, when voters are asked whether the president really cares about people like them. Specifically, Americans have deep concerns about Bush's policies on jobs, health care, and other vital domestic areas.

Bush's failure to tackle domestic needs with the same vigor as he does foreign policy recalls Churchill's preoccupation with war issues.

In July 1945 he was in Pottsdam, Germany, negotiating the postwar fate of Europe with President Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin when he was suddenly sent packing by voters.

In a 1945 diary entry, Lord Moran, who was Sir Winston's personal physician, lamented Churchill's disinterest in domestic affairs:

"The P.M. [prime minister] seems too weary to think out a policy for the restoration of the country after the havoc of the war," he noted in his diary. (His diaries are collected in a book, "Churchill: The Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965.")

During the campaign, Churchill, like Bush today, resisted any step toward socialized medicine, but his opponents were for it. Lord Moran urged Sir Winston to reconsider, but noted unhappily:

"No attempt is made to face the facts. Poor people have come to dread the expense of illness. They want their doctoring for nothing, and the party which gives them this will be on a winner."

With 35 million Americans lacking health insurance, Clinton has hammered Bush in a similar way on this issue.

Moran wrote that Sir Winston's politicking, without a strong domestic agenda, "falls back on vituperation.... But now his blows seem to miss the mark. The war is over and the public are tired of strife, they do not want bickering. They want to get on with things."

Some Republicans make a similar point about Bush. These Republicans urge him to fashion a strong program to address growing domestic problems, including last week's news that millions more Americans are now living in poverty.

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia is confident that Bush will meet the challenge. "He is second only to Ronald Reagan as the most underestimated man in Washington."

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