Kemp rules out run for presidency in 1996, citing lack of passion for campaigns

January 31, 1995|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Jack F. Kemp, once considered by many Republicans to be the ideological heir to Ronald Reagan, said yesterday that he will not seek the presidency in 1996.

The former New York congressman and secretary of Housing and Urban Development made it clear that he lacked the stomach for the fund-raising and organizational effort required in a campaign.

"My passion for ideas is not matched with a passion for partisan or electoral politics," he said.

Mr. Kemp, 59, originally had been considered one of the front runners -- along with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole -- for the Republican nomination next year. So his decision leaves a hole in the field, although it is far from clear who might benefit most from his absence.

"I've always been in politics to serve a set of beliefs," Mr. Kemp said. "I've never thought I was the only person who could carry those ideas.

"When I started my career, they were on the margins of the political debate, but now they are at the center. They are reflected by the Republican leadership in Congress and, to a greater or lesser degree, by most Republican candidates for president."

With Mr. Kemp on the sidelines, the likely field of Republican candidates includes Mr. Dole of Kansas, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. But many Republicans also ex- pect others -- including Govs. Pete Wilson of California and William F. Weld of Massachusetts -- to compete.

Mr. Kemp left open the possibility that he would endorse one of the other Republicans, although not immediately.

"I'm not tipping my hand," he said. "I'm not going to endorse anybody today."

Mr. Kemp, a former quarterback for the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, has been an energetic candidate with an acknowledged weakness for delivering long speeches on arcane issues.

He ran an aggressive campaign for the Republican nomination in 1988. But he never managed to compete on an even basis with two better-known rivals, Mr. Dole and George Bush, then the vice president, and he withdrew in the early primaries. Mr. Kemp was considered a logical possibility to be Mr. Bush's running mate for vice president but was never seriously considered -- in large part because Mr. Bush found his enthusiasm for discussing issues hard to abide.

Although Mr. Kemp has retained a following among Republican conservatives, he has stood apart from right-wing dogma on some issues. He opposes term limits and expresses doubts about the balanced budget amendment. And he has consistently advocated greater efforts to bring blacks into the Republican ranks.

"Our majority," he said yesterday, "will not be complete until America's minorities feel at home in the Republican Party."

Formerly a nine-term congressman, he had always devoted most of his attention to economic issues and was the first prominent proponent of "supply side economics" -- the theory that deep tax cuts would stimulate economic activity and thus provide more jobs for U.S. workers as well as profits for entrepreneurs.

But he had never been comfortable with the emphasis among some conservative allies on social issues and so-called "family values." In his statement of withdrawal, he endorsed a "healthy debate on values" but added: "However, our goal should be to persuade, not to impose."

Mr. Kemp evoked an angry backlash from some conservatives during the 1994 campaign when, shortly before the election, he declared his opposition to Proposition 187, the California ballot initiative to deny state services to illegal immigrants.

Mr. Kemp described himself as "surprised" by the heat of the reaction against his position, but he said that was not "a reason or the reason" for his decision not to run for president.

Mr. Kemp adopted a low-key approach to taking himself out of the campaign, inviting two dozen reporters -- but no television cameras -- to Empower America, the conservative think tank that he helped found and that he uses as his base.

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