Michael Dukakis, sounding scrappy and confident, has launched a last-ditch drive to turn around the 1988 election. Governor Dukakis is hammering at George Bush with two themes:
Republicans are tools of the rich. They cater to the wishes of big business and sharp operators on Wall Street, while ignoring the needs of Middle America.
The Bush campaign, unable to win fairly, has resorted to dirty tactics to undercut support for the Democratic ticket.
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Dukakis has played upon the deep-seated concerns of many Americans about the nation's economic future.
His new strategy does the same, as he crisscrosses the Midwest and South this week on the first anniversary of the great Wall Street crash of 1987. His message dwells upon differences in wealth and status, pitting America's well-to-do against the poor and middle class.
Dukakis says of Mr. Bush:
``He cares about the people on easy street. I care about the people on Main Street, and that's you.''
He tells audiences: ``Mr. Bush has done nothing about curbing excesses on Wall Street, and nothing about bringing back investment to Main Street, where it belongs....
``We've got to end the Republican rainbow coalition of red ink for our children, pink slips for our workers, greenmail for sharp operators on Wall Street, and gold parachutes for top corporate executives.''
Dukakis vows that when he takes office next Jan. 20, ``the days of merger mania on Wall Street are going to end, and Main Street's day will dawn.''
All this is playing well with enthusiastic crowds, as Dukakis reels off his newest stump speech in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. Later this week he flies south, where he will focus on states like Georgia, where he is still competitive.
But many Dukakis campaign workers are clearly discouraged. Polls show them at least 10 points behind. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll puts Bush's lead as high as 17 points.
Dukakis's staff is sizzling over new Bush TV commercials charging that the governor ``has opposed virtually every defense system we developed,'' including aircraft carriers, anti-satellite weapons, and a number of missile systems, including deployment of the Pershing 2.
``Lies,'' says one aide.
Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis's running mate, calls the Bush campaign ``an utterly vicious assault, a distortion and character assassination.'' Senator Bentsen was particularly upset by earlier Bush strategy that emphasized a Dukakis veto of a pledge-of-allegiance bill in Massachusetts.
Dukakis charges that Bush has put form over substance, and underhanded tactics over the need for solutions to serious problems.
``Bush? He's got the flags and he's got the balloons. But no convictions, no ideas, and no plans,'' Dukakis says.
Dukakis's assault on economic issues is the right strategy - but it's coming very, very late, in the view of many analysts. The wave of bad news for his campaign keeps growing.
Yesterday the Field Institute in San Francisco reported that Bush has moved to a 50-to-41 lead in California - a state some Democrats say Dukakis should have locked up weeks ago.
In Ohio, critical for Dukakis, a poll shows Bush running as strongly as Reagan did in 1984 in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland. Statewide, Bush is 11 points ahead.
In New York, Dukakis's best large state, it's getting closer. Encouraged by the polls, Bush will campaign in Manhattan today, forcing Dukakis to look over his shoulder.
Frustration is mounting among Democrats. Sen. Terry Sanford of North Carolina told a newspaper that the Dukakis bid ranks as ``the worst-managed campaign of this century.''
Others are less critical. They note that public opinion about the economy has sharply improved since spring. That favors the GOP.
A new Gallup poll shows that 44 percent of Americans now feel better off than in the past, and also expect to be even better off in the future. Gallup calls them ``super-optimists.'' That's the highest reading for such optimism in the history of the poll.