US Presidential Elections: President delivers on home territory

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The Independent Online
EVER MORE convinced he can after all hang on to his job, George Bush yesterday carried his campaign to one of Americana's greatest rites, the annual convention of the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food empire, at the huge Opryland hotel and entertainment complex on the outskirts of the Country and Western music capital of the world.

'Those Democratic guys are measuring the drapes in the White House,' a fired-up President told some 1,500 of Colonel Sanders's shock-troops, assembled in the Presidential ballroom, 'but don't you believe them. I hear you're experimenting with home delivery - well let me give you my present and future address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.'

Yesterday's setting was curiously apt. However different their causes, both speaker and audience are in the fight of their lives. In the case of KFC, the problem is fast- food competition from supermarkets and others; their great hope, as one speaker told them, 'the potential of the Colonel's Rotisserie Gold Chicken.'

For Mr Bush of course the problem is Bill Clinton, the hope that he can be repackaged in extremis to bolster a dwindling share of the market.

The very fact that he has come to Nashville this late in a campaign is eloquent on two counts - proof that he feels he has a shot at winning, but evidence that three days before voting a state which was once a sure thing for any Republican is still a toss-up.

To retain the White House, Bush must emulate his predecessor in 1980. But it will be tough. This after, all is Al Gore country ('That crazy Ozone Man' as the President now unfailingly describes Tennessee's would-be Democratic vice-president), while Bill Clinton's Arkansas lies just across the Mississippi river.

The 'double Bubba' Democratic ticket has been threatening to break the celebrated Republican presidential lock not just on Tennessee, with its 11 electoral college votes, but much of the rest of the South as well. If so the President has no chance of amassing the 270 needed to win. Mr Clinton is marginally ahead here, by 44-39, according to a survey yesterday.

But Tennessee is under saturation bombing from Republican advertising, highlighting Bush's combat record and the Arkansas Governor's lack of one, a deficiency not greatly appreciated in the South. 'Obviously, he thinks he can carry Tennessee, or he wouldn't be here,' says Frank Barnett, director of the local Bush-Quayle campaign. 'The polls are going in the right direction and and he's very encouraged by the economic upturn.'

The President's stump style is down to the bare essentials: hoarse voiced, arms flailing and oblivious to fact, he delivers tirades against the Democratic pair. Yesterday's target was his opponent's 'trample-down' economics, and Mr Clinton's proposal for an Aids supremo in Washington. 'We don't need another bureaucratic czar; we need compassion.'

Every day, Mr Bush is visiting three or four 'must-win' states. After Tennessee, he was travelling to Missouri and Wisconsin, both of them now toss-ups. Ancient guns of campaigns past are being wheeled out. Ex-President Ronald Reagan was stumping for Mr Bush in North Carolina yesterday, another crucial Southern swing- state the Republicans must hold. Gerald Ford is working his home state of Michigan, where the President is now in with a chance.

Mr Bush's frenzied round on the television talk shows continues. In an attempt to regain the youth vote, which is moving strongly into the Democratic column in 1992, the man who only a month ago was vowing 'I will not be a teenybopper at 68,' has finally consented to an interview today on the hugely popular MTV pop-music cable channel.

Some more obvious supporters, however, are less sanguine - including the Republican Congressman Don Sundqvist of Tennessee's 7th District, who still believes the Bush coat-tails are best avoided. Quite deliberately, he was not to be seen in the President's entourage yesterday. 'I'm not ashamed of him,' Mr Sundqvist says, 'but my priority is re- election to the US Congress, and he can take care of himself.' To judge by his performance before America's fried chicken establishment, Mr Bush agrees.