Dole narrows gap in poll to two points Newsweek survey reflects candidate's convention effort

44 to 42 to 3 for Perot

Clinton emerges, calls GOP economic plan unaffordable

Campaign 1996

August 18, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Bob Dole apparently moved to within striking distance of Bill Clinton yesterday as the White House took a newly aggressive stance in the presidential race.

A Newsweek poll published this weekend reports that Dole's performance during the week of the Republican National Convention shrank Clinton's lead. The poll gave Clinton a lead of 44 percent, to 42 percent for Dole and 3 percent for Ross Perot, who is again running an independent race.

The Dole campaign's internal polls put the spread between the Democratic and Republican candidates at 3 percentage points, according to campaign manager Scott Reed.

"Obviously, we are encouraged," Dole told reporters, as he toured the Illinois State Fair grounds.

"We had a good convention. We all did a pretty good job."

But, he also observed: "Polls are polls, I want to be winning on Nov. 5, that's the poll I'm worried about."

Meanwhile, President Clinton, who was vacationing during the GOP convention and told reporters he didn't watch any of it on television, attacked Dole's 15 percent tax cut plan.

In his weekly radio address yesterday, Clinton charged that the plan would either balloon the deficit or require deep cuts in social programs.

"We can afford ours," Clinton said of his more modest tax cut proposal. "We can't afford theirs."

The newly minted Republican nominee seemed delighted to have finally put the Clinton camp on the defensive.

"They're trying to scare the American people about my pro-growth economic plan," Dole told a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 crammed into a steamy barn at the fairgrounds. "The only people who should be scared, the only people who are really scared -- you can almost see it in their faces -- are the Democrats."

The Newsweek poll surveyed 933 registered voters, about half of them on Thursday night, the night that Dole gave his acceptance speech.

Clinton's 2-percentage-point lead was within the poll's margin of error. A Newsweek poll conducted a week earlier had Dole behind by 20 percentage points, as he has been for months.

Not all polls have been so encouraging to Dole.

"You have to take this stuff with a grain of salt," said Charles Black, an adviser traveling with the Dole campaign.

"Clearly we're coming out of our convention with the momentum tilting toward Dole. The Democrats will have their convention next week. I'm sure they'll do well. A week after that," Black said, the polls will start to mean something.

Dole and his new running mate, Jack Kemp, were on the second day of their post-convention trip, trying to build on the enthusiasm they believe they inspired in San Diego and make the hard sell on their economic plan.

The three-day journey continues this morning with a college stadium rally in Buffalo, N.Y., where Kemp played professional football and which he represented in Congress for 18 years.

"We will balance the budget and cut your taxes; no doubt about it," Dole said on a stage full of hay bales in the smotheringly hot barn, where the crowd had been waiting up to three hours for his arrival.

As with earlier gatherings on this trip, the state fair crowd was almost exclusively Republican and much more exhilarated than Dole crowds before the convention.

They hooted and hollered when he spoke of the tax cuts, particularly those on capital gains and estate taxes, which would help farmers keep their profits and pass on their land to their heirs.

They booed at any mention of the Democrats, and chanted, "Send Bill home."

"I feel like we finally have a chance now," said Gary L. Shields, Republican chairman of Boone County, who was particularly excited about the addition of Kemp to the ticket.

Larry L. Mathew, a Springfield Republican, was supportive but skeptical.

"I've heard all this tax cut stuff before lots of times, and I'm only 35 years old," he said. "They'll pass it one year, and take it away the next."

Clinton hopes to build on this skepticism to convince voters that Dole's promises are pie-in-the-sky.

"Our opponents haven't said how they'll pay for their tax cut yet," the president said in his radio address. "If they don't pay for it, their plan would balloon the deficit."

Increasing the deficit would in turn raise interest rates and slow economic growth, Clinton said.

"On the other hand, if our opponents do pay for these massive tax cuts, that would mean even bigger cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment than they have already proposed," he added.

Reed, the Dole campaign manager, argued that the White House has fumbled in reacting to the Dole economic plan and that the Democrats' fumbling has contributed to the tightening of the polls.

"We're on the move, and they are stumbling," Reed said. "That's the dynamic of the race."

Dole aides said that their candidate would at some point fill in VTC the specifics about the spending cuts he would make to pay for the tax cuts. But he is not ready to do that yet.

"We've got 81 days to do it," said John Buckley, Dole's communications director. "Dole is not submitting his fiscal 1998 budget plan in a five-minute stump speech."

Dole and Kemp chose the state fair for the second day of their post-convention trip because it is a traditional stop for GOP presidential candidates. Illinois is not only the "Land of Lincoln" but a key battleground state.

After the fair, Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, and Kemp and his wife, Joanne, paid a symbolic visit to Lincoln's tomb in Springfield along with Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and his wife, Brenda.

They spent about seven minutes inside the tomb; then on the way out, the two candidates rubbed the nose on the bust of Lincoln for luck, as many had before them.

Waving to onlookers, Kemp said of Dole: "He'll be back as president."

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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