Godliness comes to Bush poll campaign

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WITH most polls showing him still trailing by anything from 8 to 14 points, George Bush and his supporters this weekend turned their nascent campaign into a spiritual crusade against Bill Clinton and the Democrats, portraying them as foes of marriage, family and even the Almighty himself.

The President set the tone as he addressed representatives of the religious right in Dallas. 'Three simple letters, G-O-D, were conspicuous by their absence from the Democratic platform,' Mr Bush told leaders of a constituency which seems destined this year to play a more prominent part than ever in the Republican assault.

Earlier, at a rainsoaked Republican rally in his home state of Georgia, Newt Gingrich, minority whip in the House, suggested that Democratic views on the family were exemplified by the scandal surrounding Woody Allen and his relationship with the adopted daughter of his former partner, Mia Farrow. 'It's a weird situation and it fits the Democratic party platform perfectly,' he claimed.

Subsequent pseudo-disclaimers from the Bush high command merely served to underline how even by the no-holds-barred standards of US presidential contests, this one will be peculiarly brutal, with the time-honoured tactic of allowing surrogates to say what the candidate himself prefers not to.

Thus far Republicans are more than happy with the course of events since the Houston convention, even though their man is still behind and Mr Clinton is allowing no accusation or insult to go unanswered.

Most heartening of all is the President's rediscovered appetite for the fray, so visible at appearances which drew huge crowds on a hectic campaign swing through the South and electorally vital Illinois. No less important, yesterday marked the official return to the White House of James Baker, the President's closest political ally and his keenest strategist, to take charge of the campaign.

All eyes, however, are fixed on the polls, whose common message is a warning as much as encouragement for Mr Bush. Apart from a New York Times survey showing Mr Clinton ahead by only three points (which amounts to a statistical dead-heat) others still give the Arkansas Governor an advantage of up to 14 per cent.

Despite the 'bounce' from Houston, therefore, Mr Clinton still leads by virtually the same margin as before his own convention in New York. The President has solidified the backing of traditional Republicans. But he has yet to make great inroads into the vital independent vote, and shows small sign so far of attracting the 'Reagan Democrats' so important in the Republican victories of 1980, 1984, and 1988.

On a host of criteria, above all his perceived ability to improve the economy, Mr Bush is well behind Mr Clinton in every poll. The restrictive Republican stance on abortion, moreover, is costing the party dear among women. According to a poll of the South by the Atlanta Constitution, women prefer the Democratic candidate by almost two to one.