Buffalo rally pleases Dole He, Kemp draw more people 'than there are in my hometown'

Campaign 1996

August 19, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Thousands of Jack Kemp's former neighbors, constituents and fans overflowed a college stadium here to give him and Bob Dole the largest, most raucous rally so far in the presidential campaign.

An estimated 7,000 filled stadium seats at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and thousands more stood on the field and waited in lines outside just to see the Dole-Kemp motorcade.

"I can't believe the size of the crowd," Dole exclaimed. "There are more people here than there are in my hometown."

Kemp's eight years as star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, and 18 years representing Buffalo in Congress made him an extremely well-known and popular figure in this area.

"I can't think of a better place to start our campaign than Buffalo and on a football field," Kemp said to the wildly cheering crowd. With former teammates at his side on the makeshift stage, Kemp called it an emotional homecoming.

The rally, planned from the moment Dole chose Kemp as his ticket mate 11 days ago, was both a celebration and reaffirmation of the success of that choice.

Kemp is credited with energizing the Republican base, strengthening Dole's core message of tax cuts to spark economic growth and giving Dole a personal boost that one aide described as an extra "spring in his step."

"I think Kemp has breathed new life into the Republican Party," said Liz Berusch, 31, a Dole supporter who came from Rochester, an hour away, to attend the rally. "And it doesn't hurt that he's a hometown boy."

Yesterday was so much a Kemp event that Dole took the unusual role of speaking first to introduce his running mate: "I'm pleased to be the man Jack Kemp brought with him today."

In his enthusiasm, Dole even went so far as to say he would be the quarterback until the election, then let Kemp "take over."

Kemp's own bid for the GOP presidential nomination, in 1988, ended early, with a weak third-place showing in the New Hampshire primary. Now, he's positioned as Dole's likely successor, even if the ticket doesn't win.

"Jack is grateful for the opportunity he's been given," said Charles Black, a senior adviser to both Kemp and Dole.

Though known for his independent streak, Kemp has been pointedly deferential to the presidential nominee. "A lot of people are questioning, 'Can Kemp play second string?' " Kemp told the crowd. "I can do better than that. I'm going to be Bob Dole's blocking back for the next four to eight years."

Among the advantages Kemp brings to the ticket is his ability to reach out to cross-over Democrats -- a necessity for a Republican representing a city with many ethnic neighborhoods and union members."

"Kemp has a lot of appeal in blue-collar areas," said Richard Lillis, 61, a Democrat, who with his brother Michael, played host to a Kemp rally at their tavern in suburban Buffalo when Kemp was first running for Congress. "I didn't think Dole could win until he chose Kemp, but now I think he's got a chance."

The vice presidential candidate, who served as housing secretary under former President George Bush and is considered one of his party's most passionate voices for the poor and downtrodden, said he developed this sensitivity playing football.

"You cannot walk in a huddle with men from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, religions, and colors, and not realize that this nation is one team, one family under God, with respect for each other," Kemp said at the Buffalo rally.

The GOP team returned to Washington last night after a three-day, post-convention trip that took them from San Diego to Denver on Friday, to Springfield, Ill., on Saturday, and from Buffalo to Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon.

Already in high spirits after their smoothly run convention, Dole and Kemp were further buoyed by the release of a Newsweek magazine poll that suggested President Clinton's 20 point lead had dwindled to a near-tie.

George Stephanopoulos, a senior White House official, acknowledged that the race is tightening. But he predicted that the addition of Kemp to the Dole ticket would not have a lasting impact on the Republicans' chances.

"Obviously, Kemp energized the [GOP] convention," Stephanopoulos said. "But the interesting thing about Mr. Kemp was, as the week went on, we saw him walking away from his past positions." The Clinton aide was referring to Kemp's change of heart on benefits for illegal immigrants and affirmative action, both of which he supported previously. Kemp's position now more nearly mirrors Dole's.

On their way home for a brief rest last night, the Republican running mates encountered nearly as large a crowd at an outdoor rally at the confluence of Pittsburgh's three rivers.

Pittsburgh is another blue-collar town in a battleground state with a large bounty of electoral votes. The Dole campaign sees such communities as fertile ground for the Dole-Kemp message of a 15 percent tax cut to stimulate economic growth.

"For those who say this is the party of the rich, we're not the party of the rich, we're the party of the opportunity to get rich in America," Kemp said.

Dole is so pleased with his choice of Kemp and proud of the positive reaction it has drawn that he puts the question to every audience.

"Do you think I made the right choice in choosing Jack Kemp," he asked in Pittsburgh, drawing, as always, a thunderous chorus of "Yeah!"

Football metaphors and actual footballs are now ubiquitous on the Dole campaign trail. The presidential nominee frequently teases his running mate about the many times he was traded, and shortcomings of his career as a professional athlete.

"He never made it to the Super Bowl," Dole said of Kemp. "But there's going to be a super bowl on Nov. 5, and we are going to win that super bowl."

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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