HOUSTON -- Republican strategists are plotting an intense 30-day attack on Democrat Bill Clinton dubbed "September Storm" in a bid to salvage President Bush's adopted home state of Texas, the Dallas Morning News has learned.
A blitz of TV ads, radio spots and direct mail will attempt to paint Mr. Clinton as an extremist on social values and as a supporter of gay rights and gun control, said associates of the Bush campaign who did not want to be identified.
Robin Rorapaugh, Mr. Clinton's Texas campaign director, said the GOP attack plan shows Republicans are "desperate," and she vowed that Democrats will not be caught off guard. "The best defense is a good offense, and we will match Bill Clinton's record with George Bush's failed record over the last four years any time, any place in Texas," she said.
The anti-Clinton foray, detailed in a private GOP memo %o described to the Dallas Morning News, will begin Sept. 1 and is designed partly to shore up the president's support in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, where polls show he has been lagging.
It also is aimed at preventing Mr. Clinton from carrying conservative rural East Texas -- an area that GOP strategists say is the state's key battleground.
"It's rock and roll, lock and load, all offense and no react," said a Republican involved in the strategy. "We'll win or lose this thing in Texas in September."
Bush campaign officials who spoke publicly about their fall strategy acknowledged that it includes targeting Mr. Clinton but they would not give specifics. They said their plans also call for a positive message on why Texans should re-elect the president.
What they term the positive part of the "September Storm" strategy is expected to be unveiled tomorrow at a private meeting of 200 GOP leaders from Texas, gathered in Houston for the Republican convention that opens Monday.
National and state campaign officials said in interviews this week that they will stress the importance of Texas -- with its 32 electoral votes -- where Mr. Bush trails Mr. Clinton by 14 points in recent independent polls.
"We can't even discuss a coalition [of states] to win without Texas," Charles Black, a national campaign adviser, told the Dallas Morning News.
Said Rob Mosbacher, chairman of the GOP Victory '92 state committee, "We can't lose Texas and win the election."
"I'm convinced that in the next 30 days we can win this battle on the basis of the bold new ideas that the president is going to lay out [in his acceptance speech next week] and some clear contrasts with what a Clinton administration would mean for this state," Mr. Mosbacher said.
"By that I don't mean just negative," he said.
Jim Oberwetter of Dallas, chairman of the Bush campaign in Texas, said the fall fight will focus on what the president is doing to help Texas projects, such as the Superconducting Super Collider, and by exposing the "weaknesses of the Democratic ticket."
Mr. Black, who has been involved in developing the Texas strategy, said the GOP camp will simply "draw the contrast on the issues, which we have plenty of ammunition to do."
In addition to painting Mr. Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal, Mr. Black said, the effort against the Democrat will center on "family values and the social agenda that's important to Texas, especially rural Texas."
He identified those as "everything from Clinton's position for abortion on demand, gun control, school prayer, school choice, and Clinton's not-for-real welfare reform."
"There might even be some interest in Texas of his endorsement of the gay-rights agenda," Mr. Black said.
Bush campaign aides involved in the strategy, who have begun referring to themselves as "storm troopers," said they hope to convince rural East Texas voters that Mr. Clinton advocates gun control.
Mr. Clinton has said he supports a waiting period before handguns can be purchased but he says he opposes gun control. On abortion, Mr. Clinton said he supports a woman's right to choose.
The GOP strategists said they plan to distribute quotes from officers of a gay and lesbian political action committee noting that "Governor Clinton is the best candidate the Democratic Party has ever nominated on gay and lesbian issues."
The Republicans said they will remind conservative Texas voters that Mr. Clinton "has promised homosexual advocates that he will appoint them to high levels in his administration."
In response, Ms. Rorapaugh of the Clinton campaign said, "I wouldn't be surprised if they target the gay community. And that's unfortunate. But I don't think Texans are going to listen to that crap anymore."
Another area where Republicans plan to attack Mr. Clinton is on crime.
According to GOP research documents obtained by the Dallas Morning News, Republicans will blast the Arkansas governor for presiding over a state where they claim the violent crime rate has nearly doubled and where state spending on crime is at or near the bottom of any state.
Ms. Rorapaugh dismissed that, saying Mr. Clinton "has a strong record on law enforcement and fighting crime. And he's going to be the first Democratic nominee in a long time who is pro-capital punishment."
Part of the GOP effort to portray Mr. Clinton as soft on crime will include descriptions of his running mate, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, as a liberal on social issues.
The opposition research asserts that Mr. Gore "has voted against the death penalty, for gun control, against a ban on flag burning and against a ban on federal funding of obscenity."
Ms. Rorapaugh said, "People are not going to be sidetracked by a hate campaign. They are worried about their jobs."
Texas Republicans also are considering saying that Mr. Gore "introduced the world to Willie Horton" -- the subject of the widely denounced 1988 television ad used against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.
They said in the documents that "Gore attacked Michael Dukakis in April 1988 for granting weekend passes to first-degree murderers ineligible for parole."
Last month, Mr. Gore said he discussed the case of Horton -- a black prison inmate who committed a rape while on furlough -- without knowing the man's name or race. Mr. Gore said it was the Republicans who exploited Horton's race with television ads.
Mr. Mosbacher said the campaign plans to spread its message to Texas voters during the next 30 days through direct mail, phone banks and radio and TV advertising.