As he ended his acceptance speech, a dazzling firework display combined with the traditional cascade of balloons inside the cavernous Astrodome to create a spectacular send-off for the battle ahead. But of recent incumbents, only Jimmy Carter has faced a tougher re-election task.
While Republican strategists claimed their private polls indicated a big convention 'bounce' had made inroads into Governor Clinton's daunting lead, a survey in the Washington Post yesterday suggested the Democratic candidate was still far ahead, by 57 per cent to 32 per cent. That flew in the face of a survey by the Hotline political newsletter and the Houston Chronicle, putting Mr Bush only 6 points behind his rival. Another poll commissioned by CBS television showed Mr Bush narrowing the gap from 18 points last week to 11 now.
As Republicans savoured those figures, harsh economic realities again intruded into the Houston festivities. The Labor Department said new unemployment claims jumped by 71,000 to 474,000 in the week to 8 August, the biggest increase in 10 years.
Although the figures were inflated by previously announced General Motors lay-offs, they underline that the economy's weakness, Mr Bush's true Achilles' heel, persists. The most rousing acceptance speech 'can't change the facts', Mr Clinton claimed while campaigning in the motor industry heartland of Michigan.
In response, the Bush campaign is relying ever more strongly on the 'family values' card, trying to cast Mr Clinton as morally unfit for the White House. A president had to believe in God, Mr Bush told a prayer breakfast yesterday. Accompanying the assault on Mr Clinton has been a sustained effort to remake the wretched image of Dan Quayle, who could be a fatal drag on the party's ticket.
For the past few days the Vice-President, saying out loud about Mr Clinton what his boss only hints at, has been omnipresent on the airwaves and gala public meetings. Before his acceptance speech last night, conventioneers saw a video portraying Mr Quayle not as a spoilt child of privilege but as a man who had succeeded on his own, thanks to the hardworking Middle American values of his native Indiana.
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