Dole taps Kemp for ticket Former party rival, congressman gets nod as running mate

'There were good vibes'

Announcement today sets up opening of GOP convention

Campaign 1996

August 10, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

RUSSELL, Kan. -- Bob Dole chose former congressman and one-time rival Jack F. Kemp as his vice presidential running mate last night, according to GOP sources.

Dole, who plans to announce the choice today at a rally here in his hometown, extended the formal invitation in a 15-minute phone call late last night from his family home here.

Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield described the conversation as "upbeat, positive and energetic." Warfield said the new ticket mate "was so enthusiastic you could hear him through the phone."

Kemp was in Dallas, where he boarded a plane to Kansas for a late-night meeting with Dole.

Campaign officials wouldn't confirm that Kemp definitely was the choice, but they acknowledged "an expectation" that it would be Kemp. The former housing secretary is the only one of a half-dozen serious contenders on Dole's list to be in extensive contact with the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee in the past few days.

Earlier contacts came yesterday afternoon when Dole campaign manager Scott Reed called Kemp to "take his temperature," according to Dole press secretary Nelson Warfield.

"There were good vibes from that conversation, so we're on track to have a decision this evening," Warfield told reporters traveling with the Dole campaign.

Reed, a former Kemp aide, had already sounded out Kemp the night before about whether he would accept the No. 2 spot.

Dole spent much of yesterday teasing reporters about the choice he has been determined to keep secret until the official announcement today. Asked if the choice would meet his original goal of finding a perfect "10," the candidate said: "Probably be an 11."

Kemp, 61, who represented Buffalo, N.Y., in Congress for 18 years after quarterbacking the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, played it coy yesterday.

"A quarterback is always ready," Kemp told reporters who encountered him in Orlando, Fla., where he was giving a speech.

Kemp emerged abruptly as the top contender in the past few days after Dole had spent weeks contemplating at least a half-dozen others.

But the choice of a former rival who is both popular but considered hard to control would signal that Dole believes he needs to make a dramatic move, with his campaign still lagging about 20 percentage points behind President Clinton's.

Kemp is among the original proponents of "supply-side economics," which believes in stimulating economic growth by reducing taxes. That approach is based on a controversial theory that cutting taxes on investments will trigger enough new business activity to more than recover the tax losses.

Dole, a lifelong deficit hawk dedicated to balancing the budget, embraced the supply-side theory in the economic plan he unveiled Monday, and could thus use Kemp as a salesman for his program.

"The most articulate, the most effective, the most experienced advocate of pro-growth policies has to be Jack Kemp," Warfield said last night. "So he brings a very powerful qualification in that area."

Kemp, who made his own bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988, also has his own national following.

Because of his "remarkable popularity throughout the political spectrum, he's one GOP candidate who has broad appeal right off the bat to independents and Democrats," Warfield said.

The prospective choice was greeted warmly last night by Republican leaders.

"It's a bold move," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called Kemp "one of the most dynamic and emotionally intense advocates of economic growth and opportunity for every American."

Steve Forbes, a close friend and political ally of Kemp who shares his tax-cutting views, predicted a Dole-Kemp ticket would "excite the country."

But many Dole supporters have been concerned about the strained relationship between Dole and Kemp. In fact, Kemp has said in recent months that he figured he had ruled himself out of consideration for the Dole ticket repeatedly provoking the soon-to-be nominee.

Their awkward relationship developed when the two were rivals in the presidential race of 1988. Most recently, Kemp angered Dole by endorsing Forbes in the GOP primaries this year.

But Kemp has long been considered a loose cannon by Dole and others in the GOP because he has history of promoting his own agenda even when he is supposed to be part of a team.

Kemp was a source of repeated frustration to former President George Bush when he served as housing secretary.

"I think Kemp is a good choice, but only if they are able to resolve those hard feelings," said Craig Cousland, 50, a high school teacher from Beloit, Kan., at a Dole campaign event yesterday. "Sometimes things said in anger have a way of lingering unless they are worked through."

With his decision on a running mate all but made, Bob Dole made a pilgrimage yesterday morning to Abilene, about 90 miles across the broad Kansas prairie from Russell, to visit the boyhood home of a fellow Kansan he hopes to follow to the White House.

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