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Bush defeats Dukakis to become 41st president

By JOSEPH MIANOWANY, UPI Political Writer

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 1988 (UPI) -- Republican George Bush was elected the 41st president of the United States Tuesday, climaxing a bitter and grueling campaign with a crushing victory over Democrat Michael Dukakis that gave the GOP control of the White House for a third straight term.

The easy win by the 64-year-old Bush marked the first time in 152 years -- since Martin Van Buren in 1836 -- that a sitting vice president won the presidency. It also meant that for the first time since the Democratic era of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman that ended 36 years ago, one party will control the White House for more than two consecutive terms.

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But Bush will face a Congress controlled by the Democrats as voters continued to exhibit a peculiarly American form of political schizophrenia -- just as his political godfather, Ronald Reagan, has in the past two years.

Bush's victory also catapulted to international prominence Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, now the vice president-elect and the first member of the ''baby boom'' generation to be elected to nationwide office.

With 60 percent of the vote counted, Bush had 29,397,395 votes for 54 percent of the popular vote, while Dukakis, the three-term governor of Massachusetts, had 25,046,776 votes for 46 percent.

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By 11:59 p.m. EST Bush had carried 29 states worth 275 electoral votes and was leading in seven with 89 votes. Dukakis had won six states worth 70 electoral votes and was leading in seven for 97 more. It takes 270 to win the presidency.

Although his win was apparent fairly early in the night, Bush held off claiming victory until nearly an hour after the polls closed in California -- a state once touted as a critical battleground that effectively became an asterisk in the record books.

With his wife, Barbara, and a platoon of his children and grandchildren surrounding him, Bush told an enthusiastic crowd in his adopted hometown of Houston, ''The people have spoken and with a full heart and with great hope I thank all the people across America who have given us this great victory.''

In his victory speech, Bush praised Reagan, who campaigned tirelessly for his two-term vice president and whose popularity was no doubt a major factor in Bush's victory. The president, declared the president-elect, ''is simply one of the most decent men I have ever met.''

And, with the pragmatism that has marked his political career, Bush moved immediately to smooth over what is expected to be a rough relationship with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, declaring, ''I'll do my level best to reach out and work constructively with the United States Congress.''

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The campaign was perceived as one of the nastiest of the century, and polls suggested that while citizens blamed both candidates for the tone, a larger share was assessed against Bush. Addressing any lingering bitterness, the winner said, ''When I said I want a kinder and gentler nation, I meant it and I mean it.

''A campaign is a disagreement and disagreements divide. But an election is a decision ... and I want to be president of all the people.''

''To those who supported me I want to be worthy of your trust. And to those who didn't, I will try to earn it,'' Bush said. ''And I want to be your president, too.''

Dukakis, 55, conceded defeat more than a half-hour earlier, at 11:22 p.m. EST, telling supporters in Boston that he had called Bush to congratulate him and ''extend my best wishes.''

He urged his backers to work with the new president and said, ''Our nation faces major challenges ... and we must work together.''

While voters turned their backs on Dukakis, they were keeping the Congress in Democratic hands.

Democrats held their Senate majority, amassing at least 52 seats to 40 for the Republicans with eight races undecided. It appeared the makeup of next year's Senate would closely resemble the 54-46 Democratic edge that came from the 1986 voting. They also were sure of firm control of the House.

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Democrats also grabbed at least two GOP governorships in the 12 states with gubernatorial races. In Indiana, Evan Bayh, son of former Sen. Birch Bayh, beat Republican Lt. Gov. John Mutz, even though the state went solidly for Bush. Democrats also ousted three-term West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore, sending millionaire Gaston Caperton to Charleston.

Quayle was clearly the most controversial figure of the entire fall campaign and his qualifications came under ceaseless attack. But Bush defended him just as persistently and, in the end, network surveys of voters showed that only 12 percent consider Quayle a major issue -- the same share who saw the Pledge of Allegiance as a key concern.

Even though he lost his bid to be vice president, Dukakis running mate Lloyd Bentsen, 67, easily won re-election to his Texas Senate seat and will likely remain as chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee.

Given the large amounts of dissatisfaction with both candidates, it had been thought that voter turnout would be low. Early estimates were that roughly half the voting age population -- about 90 million people -- had voted.

Bush, who trailed badly in the summer and spent months shedding the image of a ''wimp,'' accomplished his broad-based victory by stressing the conservative Reagan legacy and relentlessly attacking Dukakis as too liberal for mainstream America.

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The president-elect -- who has served in a variety of appointed posts and last won an election by himself 20 years ago when he captured a House seat from Texas, and was whipped by Reagan in 1980 for the GOP nomination -- now faces the challenge of proving that he can govern as surely and effectively as he campaigned this time.

Bush, who sold himself as the man with strong foreign policy credentials who would continue the philosophical legacy of Reagan, easily swept the Deep South, then turned his election night steam roller north, moving through Appalachians, picking off some crucial Rust Belt states, and sweeping through the Sun Belt toward the West Coast.

Like Reagan before him, Bush made a mockery of the once-solid Democratic bastion of the South, an electoral base that began to crack 40 years ago and, for Dukakis, became the same bitter disappointment that Reagan had made it for Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter.

The voters' decision suggested a reluctance to chance the nation's foreign affairs to an untested politician from New England. But, at the same time, their votes for Congress indicated they were happy with how domestic affairs are being handled -- a relatively easy choice with unemployment and inflation low and the economy growing steadily, if modestly.

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Dukakis, who claimed an upset win was possible in the final days of his ''marathon'' run, apparently was narrowing the gap, but ran out of time.

Television exit polling data indicated that of the voters who made their decision late, most went to Dukakis. But the figures also showed Dukakis had failed to make substantial inroads among women voters -- the so-called ''gender gap'' once touted as an Achilles' heel for Bush -- blue collar workers and union members -- groups he had hoped would go heavily for him.

Although he was favored to win for the last several weeks, Bush's victory was much larger than had been thought possible merely three months ago, when Dukakis held a double-digit lead in public opinion polls. But Bush then mounted an aggressive strategy that concentrated on hihglighting Dukakis's ''negatives'' and relentlessly painted the Democrat as an out-of-touch ''liberal.''

Dukakis was late to respond to many of the GOP's campaign charges, but he painted Bush as a candidate of the wealthy and charged that the vice president would not bring enough sound ethics to the White House.

Both candidates won their parties' nominations after hard-fought campaigns that began in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire just after the new year began.

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Bush, despite a poor third-place finish in Iowa, had the easier time of the two. After rescuing his campaign with a come-from-behind win in the New Hampshire primary, the vice president swept through the multi-state Super Tuesday Southern primaries and had the GOP nomination locked up in April.

Dukakis had a much tougher battle, having to eliminate seven opponents along the way and not finally securing the Democratic nomination for himself until the final night of the primary season in June.

Going into the general election campaign, Dukakis appeared to have the strong edge, but that changed dramatically at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in August.

Even though he was heavily criticized for choosing Quayle as his running mate and even as the Indiana senator's experiences and qualifications came under what would seem to be ceaseless attack, Bush came out of the convention appearing to have stepped from under Reagan's shadow.

A stirring convention speech and a newfound aggressiveness showed Americans a Bush they had not seen before and began to erase questions about whether he was strong enough to be president.

As he pounded Dukakis on issues ranging from support of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Massachusetts prison furlough program and the death penalty, the governor failed to effectively respond and watched his lead in the polls evaporate.

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Instead, Dukakis jumped from strategy to strategy and for months could not seem to kill the appearance that he was an arrogant and unemotional technocrat. Only in the closing weeks of the campaign did he hit upon the populist theme that appeared, for the first time, to give his campaign new life.

The Bush camp also out-maneuvered Dukakis's strategists on other fronts. Although the Democrat, who is proud of his debating skills, wanted several face-to-face confrontations between the candidates, Bush insisted on having only two.

Ironically, it was the second presidential debate in Los Angeles on Oct. 13 that hurt Dukakis badly.

Even though he turned in a relatively solid performance, Bush was better. And, his failure to show any emotion when asked whether he would continue to support capital punishment if his wife were raped and murdered added to the image of him being without feelings -- a real blow to a man who portrayed himself as a Harry Truman-like the champion of the common man.

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