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A campaign of - issues. Bush-Dukakis debate credited in part with shifting contest from imagery to a battle of policies and programs

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The October battle for middle-class votes is under way. The presidential candidates, down to the final month of the campaign, are targeting the huge center of the American electorate with a shower of ideas and proposals.

Suddenly, issues are in. Transparent political posturing is out, or at least less obvious.

George Bush, who wrapped himself tightly in the American flag during September, now can be heard discussing his plan for a new, tax-free savings program for moderate-income Americans.

Michael Dukakis, who rode an M-1 tank last month to show how tough he was on defense, now focuses on a new proposal to improve ethics in government.

``Issues are beginning to drive both campaigns,'' says Tom Herman, a senior adviser to Governor Dukakis.

The first presidential debate last week gets some of the credit. Mr. Dukakis, hoping to turn the debate away from the vice-president's ideological attacks, concentrated on ideas for the future. Until that time, most of Dukakis's proposals were being lost in the heavy political static created by Mr. Bush about the pledge of allegiance, furloughs for prison inmates, and charges that Dukakis was a liberal.

Bush has responded recently with fresh ideas of his own.

The candidates are attempting to address concerns shared by many Americans. Public opinion polls show that voters are worried by rising debts, competition from abroad, and soaring health care costs. They want to know:

Will my family be able to afford a home?

Will I have a job in the future?

Will my children have a job as good as mine?

Will college become too expensive for my family?

Will my financial future be jeopardized by illness?

There is also widespread public disgust with corruption in Washington and on Wall Street. Voters want it cleaned up.

Dukakis, sensing an area where Bush might be vulnerable, proposed last week an ``integrity-in-government initiative.''

``Something has got to be done about the revolving-door problem we have in Washington,'' Mr. Herman says.

Dukakis vowed that ``on the day I take office, I will sign an executive order to ensure that no top official ... will use his or her past position ... to peddle influence.''

The governor told one audience: ``If you accept a job with my administration, don't even think about cashing in on your contacts when you leave office.''


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