GOP goes for nation's heart Speeches blend family themes with Clinton-bashing

Kemp makes appearance

Dole to be nominated by Ariz. Sen. McCain, former Vietnam POW

Campaign 1996

Republican Convention

August 14, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Republicans prepared to nominate Bob Dole and Jack Kemp as their 1996 ticket today, after a night of speeches that mixed family-friendly themes with some high-tech Clinton-bashing.

Rep. Susan Molinari, given the featured speaking spot on the program as part of an effort to close Dole's gender gap with female voters, led a parade of Republican women in attacking President Clinton.

Molinari began by joking that her speech was "a lot like a Bill Clinton promise. It won't last long and it'll sound like a Republican talking."

"Americans know that Bill Clinton's promises have the life span of a Big Mac on Air Force One," said the 38-year-old New York congresswoman and mother of an infant daughter.

"While that may be funny, what's not funny is what he is doing to the promise of America."

In an effort to inject more excitement into last evening's session, Kemp made his first appearance inside the San Diego Convention Center, clasping hands with Dole's wife, Elizabeth, in a raised salute to the delegates.

The elaborately choreographed program is designed to unify the party and to make the convention more appealing to viewers at home.

The first night TV ratings, however, showed that network viewership was off more than 20 percent from the 1992 convention in Houston.

Dole, whose war record will be a central focus of the final two days here, is to be nominated tonight by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a former Vietnam-era prisoner of war.

The nomination will be seconded by Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas and Wendy Lee Gramm, the wife of a former Dole rival Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.

Kemp will be nominated by Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, the state that the California-born Kemp -- a longtime resident of Bethesda -- claims as his home.

"This party is unified from top to bottom, and that is important," Dole said yesterday in a joint appearance with Kemp before delegates from New York.

Dole led the assault on Clinton's character.

Attacks on president

"I have credibility, something that President Clinton lacks from time to time," he said in the morning appearance at a San Diego hotel.

Inside the hall, the Republicans hooted at video clips of Clinton as they were shown on a pair of giant TV screens.

"Mr. Clinton, we do feel the pain, because you're causing it," Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut said after footage featuring Clinton making a 1992 campaign tax-cut pledge was screened.

Another clip included Clinton's remark, at an October 1995 event in Houston, where he apologized for his 1993 tax increase by telling a crowd of wealthy Democratic donors: "It might surprise you to know that I think that I raised them too much, too."

Videos ridiculing Clinton's varying balanced-budget targets -- ranging between five and 10 years -- drew cheers of delight, as did fuzzy footage of Clinton remarking, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas also charged that Clinton had failed to keep his '92 campaign promise to cut taxes, as well as his pledge to balance the federal budget and to restore ethics in government.

"It's time to elect a president who will keep Bill Clinton's promises, and that man is Bob Dole," she said.

And in a dig at Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose recent book on child-rearing is titled "It Takes A Village," the Texas senator said, "We don't want a village to raise a child; we want a family."

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, like Molinari and Hutchison a supporter of abortion rights, referred in passing to the Republican Party's differences over "choice."

It was the only time the issue was mentioned in last night's addresses to the delegates, most of whom favor restrictions or an outright ban on abortion.

Also left unmentioned at this week's convention has been the "Contract with America," which Republican candidates championed in their 1994 takeover of Congress.

Its architect, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who only last year was the dominant Republican in the nation, did not mention the contract in his speech last night.

Delegates waved red, white and blue signs reading "I [heart symbol] Newt" and greeted his appearance on the podium with chants of "Newt, Newt, Newt."

Pushed into the background

Despite the lavish welcome, which included a patriotic video introduction, Gingrich has been pushed into the background at this week's convention, largely as a result of his low standing with voters, especially those Dole needs to win back in order to defeat Clinton.

Gingrich, who has been seeking to soften his highly negative public image, turned a kinder and gentler face to the cameras last night.

He pointedly avoided any anti-Clinton rhetoric.

Instead, the Georgia congressman delivered a speech centered on themes of compassion and charity.

L His remarks received a fairly tepid response from the crowd.

Besides aiming one-liners at the Democrats, the Republicans tried to beam a more reassuring message to female voters, who favor Clinton over Dole by as much as 20 to 30 points.

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