Maryland delegates applaud Dole's pick Conservatives, moderates expect Kemp to ignite a slumping campaign

Campaign 1996

Republican Convention

August 11, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- From moderates to conservatives, members of Maryland's delegation to the Republican convention greeted the choice of Jack Kemp as Bob Dole's running mate yesterday with enthusiasm and excitement.

In a campaign that has had few bright spots in recent months, Dole's announcement became a cause for celebration.

State delegates predicted that Kemp would bring charisma and star quality to the struggling Dole effort while at the same time reaching a broader constituency, including blacks and Hispanics.

"I think it's a stroke of genius," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party and a member of its moderate wing.

"I think he will be a real shot in the arm."

Michael W. Burns, a conservative state legislator from Anne Arundel County, said: "Like a lot of Republican activists, I've been a little depressed.

"Now, as a politician, I can see how we can win the election. Dole's not a goner."

Kemp is no stranger to Maryland. He has lived in Bethesda since his days as a New York congressman and, later, as secretary of housing and urban development during the Bush administration.

What impact he could have in the election in Maryland is questionable.

A traditionally liberal state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of 2 to 1, Maryland gave President Clinton his second-widest margin of victory in 1992, behind Arkansas.

Kemp is not without his own political weaknesses, some delegates said.

His well-known political independence -- and his tendency to give long-winded speeches -- could cause headaches for Dole as the presidential candidate tries to craft a concise message along the campaign trail.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the 1994 Republican nominee for governor who served as Kemp's Maryland campaign director during his 1988 presidential bid, called Kemp the best possible choice.

She acknowledged his tendency to talk too long, but likened him to a preacher so passionate about his message that "he gets to the end of his sermon, and he starts over again."

Sauerbrey recalled a speech Kemp gave before a meeting of state legislators from around the country in which he spoke for an hour and 20 minutes based on a few notes scribbled on an envelope.

"He had everybody in the palm of his hand," said Sauerbrey, an unabashed fan.

Kemp has irritated Republicans over the years by failing occasionally to stick to the party line -- sometimes by taking positions in support of government aid for minorities or the urban poor.

For instance, Kemp has vocally opposed California's Proposition which would deny public benefits such as health care to illegal aliens.

"A 'smart' politician, if he was against that, would not have said a word," Burns said.

But while Kemp's unvarnished candor may anger some of the party faithful, it could appeal to voters, particularly independents, who say they are looking for bold leaders with convictions.

"He's the kind of person that young people will at least listen to because they can see that he is honest," Burns said.

But, as a vice presidential candidate, "He's going to have to walk a tightrope that's a lot easier to do if you don't say what you think all the time."

U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who represents the Eastern Shore and heads the Maryland delegation to the convention, said Kemp differs from other long-time politicians in that he doesn't tend to bend to the political winds of the day.

"There are quite a few people in politics who are strongly influenced by the spin doctors and political consultants, and if anybody is independent of that mired mush, it's Jack Kemp," Gilchrest said.

"I think he's got the kind of spark and charisma the Dole team needs."

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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