George Bush says he believes Jimmy Carter will be renominated and that "he would be easier to beat than [Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy." "The President is vulnerable," the Republican presidential aspirant told reporters over breakfast Feb. 7. "He'll return to pre-Iran and pre-Afghanistan soon, and then the economy will be his major burden.
"Then, he'll have to face up to raging inflation, interest rates that are off the charts, and more.
"Furthermore," Mr. Bush said, "Carter will have to answer to his weakness and vaccilation in foreign affairs."
He continued: "People are rallying behind the President because of his response to the Soviet threat. That's what the polls are showing -- and not that people think he's suddenly become a leader."
Asked if he thought the President was stirring up "war hysteria," Mr. Bush said: "I don't believe they [the administration] believe war with the Soviets is just around the corner.
"I can't argue," he said, "against the President's position that Mideast oil is in our interests and the interests of our allies.
"The Soviets should be made to know that their moving into the Persian Gulf would be intolerable."
Of Senator Kennedy, Bush said: "First, I didn't think he would run in the first place. And I was wrong. But I think the very reasons that I thought would keep him from running are defeating him now.
"But," he added, "I still think Carter would be easier to beat than Kennedy -- because Kennedy could divorce himself from the Carter record and not get bogged down by the problems of inflation and the economy."
Of his rise in the polls, Mr. Bush had this to say:
"I was struggling. Then Iowa elevated the expectations of what I would be able to do. It is a change for the betteR."
But Mr. Bush wasn't ready yet to say he was the "front-runner." He would have to accept that label if he on in New Hampshire, he added.
How about the charges coming out of Ronald Reagan's camp that he was the "elitist" candidate while Mr. Reagan was the candidate of the forgotten middle class? Mr. Bush smiled. He said he was confident that his support comes from Americans of all kinds -- poor, middle class, and wealthy.
At the breakfast Mr. Bush denied that any unreported contributions had fueled his unsuccessful US Senate campaign against Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas in 1970. He was responding to questions about a Los Angeles Times story that said he received $106,000, $55,000 of it in cash, from a secret Nixon "slush fund" that figured prominently in the Watergate scandal, and that these contributions were not reported on his campaign finance reports for his 1970 Senate campaign.