Dole's warning to Clinton: Don't go too far or too fast



WASHINGTON -- Among those quick to read the political te leaves after the defeat of Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler by Republican Paul Coverdell in the Georgia runoff election was Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole.

He said the result was "more proof that the Republican Party is alive and well," as well as a warning to President-elect Bill Clinton of "don't go too far, and don't go too fast."

The remarks were another notification from Dole that with President Bush heading for private life after Jan. 20, he intends to be the prime spokesman for the GOP, and not only on Capitol Hill.

Dole had indicated the same thing on election night when he tossed cold water on Clinton's victory by saying he didn't have a "mandate" from the voters because he only won 43 percent of the vote compared with the 57 percent who voted for Bush and Ross Perot.

Dole is well aware that a leadership vacuum was created in the Republican Party by Bush's defeat and he is as well-positioned as anyone on the national scene to move into it.

Although he served for a time as Senate majority leader under President Ronald Reagan, he has longer experience as an opposition leader and he is leaving no doubt that he intends to be a tough one.

After the usual love fest when a president-elect goes to the Hill, NTC at which a relatively docile Dole made all the right sounds about cooperation with Clinton, Dole was quick to seize the first opportunity to adopt a partisan posture.

When Clinton went to Georgia to campaign for Fowler on the day before the runoff, Dole proclaimed that the president-elect after their cordial meeting had gone out and "stiffed" him by urging Georgia's voters to return a Democrat to the Senate.

Dole has been around much too long to take umbrage at a Democrat campaigning for another Democrat, that being the name of the game.

He knows that throughout Bush's term the president laced his pitches for cooperation with the Democratic-controlled Congress with efforts to elect more Republicans.

Clinton, for his part, is not likely to be deterred from trying to work with Dole and the Republican minority by such comments by Dole.

Unless Clinton is less sophisticated politically than he seems to be, he will understand that Dole is about the business of establishing his own leadership position in his own party.

Dole is also too smart to read more into Fowler's defeat and Coverdell's victory than what he claimed -- that it is proof that the GOP has not been shattered by Bush's loss.

The same cannot be said of one of the leading candidates to succeed Bush lieutenant Rich Bond as Republican National chairman, Spencer Abraham.

Abraham, chairman of the committee that works to elect Republicans to the House, was quick to proclaim that Fowler's defeat despite Clinton's 11th-hour personal campaigning was "the first sign that Bill Clinton will have the shortest honeymoon in presidential history" and that he "is going to be an electoral liability for the Democrats in the '94 elections."

The fact is that Fowler's defeat still leaves Clinton with a comfortable 57-43 partisan edge in the Senate, enough to break the legislative gridlock that stymied Bush's domestic plans if his own proposals can muster sufficient Democratic support for passage.

Dole knows from experience that he will have a task cutting short Clinton's honeymoon unless the new president himself provides the ingredients for trouble by alienating fellow Democrats on specific issues.

As for Clinton being an electoral liability two years down the road, that is going to depend on the state of the economy and whether he has been able to take advantage of more favorable opportunities with Congress controlled by his own party -- not on whether he campaigned part of one day for a Democrat too weak to win a majority on his own who then narrowly lost in a runoff.

Abraham, however, is campaigning for votes from a constituency -- members of the Republican National Committee -- who like to hear such partisan exaggerations, so his announcing Clinton's demise even before he takes office isn't too surprising.

Dole's further warnings that he is getting ready to do battle with Clinton on Capitol Hill are more significant, if also not surprising.

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