Bush big gainer, say professional gabbers - Talk-radio hosts see recent shift

 OCTOBER 31, 1992 | Washington Times, The (DC)

 | Page: A4 | Section: ANATIONCAMPAIGN '92
762 Words | Readability: Lexile: 1080, grade level(s): 8 9

Paul W. Smith, morning talk-show host on Radio WWDB in Philadelphia, said he has noticed some marked changes in caller sentiment in the final days of the 1992 presidential campaign, and President Bush is the clear beneficiary.

"Ross Perot shot himself in the foot when he started seeing submarines in his Cheerios and subversive groundhogs," Mr. Smith said in a telephone interview.

Support for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton has also slipped, he said. "The issue of trust and character really does matter to my audience, which is predominantly 35 and over. It's an issue that's clearly becoming stronger as the election gets closer."

Reports from many talk-show hosts throughout the country confirm polls indicating a voter shift away from Mr. Clinton and toward Mr. Bush. Some say Mr. Perot is no longer a factor in the race.

"I've noticed a shift toward the president," said Earl Freudenberg, talk-show host on Radio WDOD in Chattanooga, Tenn.

He said his observations were bolstered by a telephone poll conducted this week by WTVC, a Chattanooga television station, which found 30,000 respondents supporting Mr. Bush by a margin of 44 to 37 percent.

"This is the first time Bush has ever come out ahead since the campaign began," Mr. Freudenberg said.

Steve Hunsicker, assignment manager at WTVC, cautioned that this "telepoll" was "not scientific." Nevertheless, he said, "This is the first one Bush has won. Before, he and Clinton were either neck-and-neck or Clinton was ahead."

Mr. Freudenberg said the "trust issue" is figuring into the drop in Clinton support he's observing. "This is a conservative area, and the draft thing and the marijuana thing are still being brought up."

As for Mr. Perot, he said: "A lot of people identified with his philosophy. But most people talking to me think he doesn't have a chance . . . so he's not much of a factor at this time."

Barry Young, a talk-show host on KFYI in Phoenix, said he's seen evidence suggesting both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Perot are losing support in that area.

"There's really been a shift away from Perot, and Arizona was a big Perot state," Mr. Young said. "But it's now clear Bush will take Arizona. No question about it."

He said he believes both of the president's rivals have suffered because of questions about their character. Perot caused himself "character problems" by "getting hostile when he was asked to prove some preposterous allegations," Mr. Young said.

"And we see people leaving Bill Clinton" because of questions about his character, he said.

Mr. Young credited conservative national talk-show host Rush Limbaugh with having a "major" influence on this trend as a result of a question he began asking on the air this week. The question: "If character is not an issue, why isn't Ted Kennedy president of the United States?"

While some may be surprised by the reports of growing public skepticism about Mr. Clinton, Chicago talk-show host Roe Conn said, "On talk radio throughout the country, skepticism has been heavy for him."

Callers are "skeptical about his ability to tell the truth," Mr. Conn said of the Democratic contender.

Unlike talk-show hosts in most other cities contacted, Mr. Conn said he's seen no evidence of diminished support for Mr. Perot over the past week.

Dan Bennett, program director at Radio KLIF in Dallas, said: "Yesterday we did a remote in north Dallas, and it was heavy, heavy Bush. This wasn't happening three weeks ago."

He said there's definitely been reduced support for Mr. Perot in recent days. "Some people are saying he sounds like an eccentric kook."

In Cleveland, Merle Pollis, host of his own show on Radio WHR, said: "I totally support Governor Clinton, and I don't see any shifting [to Bush]. The reading I get is that there's no way Bush can carry Ohio unless he carries Cuyahoga County [which includes Cleveland]. And Clinton will win Cuyahoga County."

Bob Henderson, talk-show host on rival station WWWE in Cleveland, said it's a "tossup" as to whether the president carries Cuyahoga County. "Based on the calls we're getting, people are taking another look at Bill Clinton. His negatives are moving up."

Mr. Henderson said many people are distrustful of Mr. Clinton's claims that he'll raise only taxes of the wealthy. "A lot of people understand it will have to be an across-the-board tax increase," he said.

A producer at KABC Radio in Los Angeles said support for Mr. Clinton remains high in that city. "Eighty percent of the calls we receive are against George Bush," he said.

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