WASHINGTON — Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Al Gore came to Bangor Friday hoping to stem the momentum of independent candidate Ross Perot, who recent polls suggest could capture Maine’s four electoral votes.
He left town claiming that a new disclosure in the Iran-Contra scandal is the “bombshell” that will shatter President George Bush’s claim to be a more trustworthy leader than Gov. Bill Clinton.
Mary Matalin, Bush’s political director, dismissed the new allegation as old charges recycled by the congressionally appointed special prosecutor’s office to smear the president “four days before the election.”
Stephen Bost, Maine’s coordinator for Perot, doubted that any new developments in the Iran-Contra scandal would seriously affect Maine voters.
At a downtown rally attended by an estimated 3,000 Democratic supporters, flanked by pockets of Perot and Bush backers, Gore taunted the president for calling him “Mr. Ozone,” and denigrating the Democratic ticket as a couple of “bozos.” Bush made those comments while campaigning in Michigan on Thursday.
“I think the president has been out in the sun too long. … If George Bush went to Hollywood to make a movie, he would have to call it, `Honey, I Shrunk the Economy.’ And the sequel would be, `Honey, I Blew Up the Deficit.”‘
The real news came while Gore was holed up in a room in the Pickering Square parking garage giving satellite interviews to local television and radio stations in other states. An aide told members of the traveling press corps to hold their places for a “bombshell.”
The bombshell turned out to be a new indictment against former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger by the special Iran-Contra prosecutor. A document released by the special prosecutor’s office, Gore told reporters, was the “smoking gun” proving that Bush has been lying to the American people about his role in the mid-1980s scandal.
The document was a note by Weinberger about a Jan. 7, 1986, meeting saying that President Reagan decided to go ahead with the arms-for-hostages deal and that “VP (presumably Bush) favored” the exchange of arms for hostages.
According to Gore, Weinberger’s indictment and his memo suggesting that Bush was inside the “loop” of Iran-Contra discussions “devastates” the president’s credibility to make trust an issue with Gov. Clinton.
“For six years, he told the American people something that has proven to be untrue. … We now have evidence that what George Bush said about his role in one of the worst and most embarrassing American foreign policy decisions is untrue. How can he now ask the American people to trust him?” Gore asked.
“This memo is a real smoking gun,” said Gore. “It’s a bombshell.”
“The reason George Bush has tried to conceal the true nature of his role in the arms-for-hostage policy is that he knows the American people would reject and find abhorrent such a swap of arms for hostages. He knew it would devastate his campaign four years ago. He knew it would devastate his campaign this year. So he has tried to get away with a story that is not true,” Gore said.
Gore called on Bush to release the transcript of his sworn testimony to the Tower Commission regarding the missile sale. “If he told the same untrue story under oath, then that is a crime,” Gore said, stopping short of calling such a scenario an impeachable offense.
“I won’t say that. We have to learn what he said under oath,” Gore told reporters.
“I find it highly curious that they would reissue the same indictment, with just a few technical adjustments, four days before the election after wasting $42 million of the taxpayers’ money on this investigation,” said Matalin. “I defy Clinton to let somebody spend $42 million investigating his record,” she said.
Debra Cook, spokeswoman for the Maine Clinton-Gore campaign, said Friday’s rally exceeded expectations. She dismissed a recent poll by the Guy Gannett newspapers showing a large drop in Clinton’s lead and a big increase in undecided voters as being a precursor of a Perot surge.
“We have always expected that the race would tighten. I don’t think we will lose Maine,” Cook said.
Maine State Senate President Charles Pray was not as certain. “A lot of people are not sure where they want to go yet,” he said. “Yes, it’s possible Perot could carry the state. It’s a real horse race.”
Bob Squires, a national Democratic consultant, said, “If the election were to be held today, Perot would not carry a single state … although I have seen some states where he could finish higher than Bush.”
Bost said that Gore’s trip to Maine was a direct consequence of Perot’s upswing in popularity in the state, which has been portrayed as strongly leaning toward Clinton by the national media.