The independent middle-class voter will be the deciding factor in the presidential election, Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson said Monday evening at Canisius College.
"In the end, this election will be decided in most of the key states by which candidate most appeals to the economic values of the independent middle-class voter," he said.
Thompson, 52, spoke in the William H. Fitzpatrick Chair of Political Science lecture series. The first governor in his state to be elected to four consecutive terms, he is George Bush's campaign manager in Illinois.
"In many ways the American public has just become engaged with the campaign," he said.
In this extraordinary campaign that has seen reporters in bushes, plagiarized speeches, the emergence of 15-second sound bites and spin control, he said many may think there is a better way to choose the president.
"Under the rules of the presidency of 1988, Abraham Lincoln would have been the next guy out," Thompson said.
He said Lincoln was at best a melancholy man, and under the spotlight of television, his demeanor and his wife's activities would have made surviving a contemporary campaign nearly impossible.
"When he wasn't depressed, his wife was profligate," Thompson said.
While Lincoln is known for the Gettysburg Address, Thompson acknowledged there is little passion created in this campaign.
He said the first debate between Bush and Michael Dukakis seems to have made little difference in their standing in the race.
"In the old days, a debate was an affirmative thing to establish positions, to make points, to do well. Now presidential debates appear to have degenerated to the place where the purpose is to avoid making a mistake. If you avoid making a mistake, you win," he said.
The governor said the Pledge of Allegiance has been skillfully used by the Bush campaign to color the public persona of Dukakis, who was largely unknown.
"The challenge for both Bush and Dukakis always was who painted the blank Dukakis canvas first," Thompson said. "If George Bush was to get there first and paint the canvas in a negative way, then that negative painting would clearly color other issues in the campaign."
Thompson maintained that the selection of Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as the Republican vice presidential nominee hurt Dukakis more than Bush.
"Dukakis literally got shut out of the news for about two weeks. Bush got shut out, too, but Bush came out with the bounce," he said.
The governor added that when Bush got a receptive response from the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Chicago, it was Thompson who called the campaign headquarters in Washington to have Quayle speak to the same group. Quayle also got a favorable reception from the veterans.