Powell touts Dole to vets Retired general introduces nominee at VFW convention

'He is tried and tested'

Dole attacks Clinton over cutbacks in defense spending

Campaign 1996

August 21, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In his first campaign appearance with retired Gen. Colin L. Powell since the Republican convention, Bob Dole promised one of the nation's largest veterans groups yesterday that he would "restore our nation's commitment" to men and women in uniform.

Speaking to the nearly 7,000 delegates at the 97th annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dole attacked the Clinton administration for cutting defense spending 11 percent and "squandering" the remaining resources on United Nations missions that have "precious little do to with U.S. security."

"No question about it. We can do better," said Dole, wearing his own VFW cap, indicating that he is a life member of the 1.2 million-member organization.

Powell, the popular former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, introduced the GOP nominee as "Lt. Bob Dole, 10th Mountain Division."

He called Dole a candidate with "a vision that American needs based on a renewal of our traditional values. He is tried and tested. He is a man of strength, character, maturation and energy."

Powell did not discourage talk about him taking the job of secretary of state in a Dole administration.

"Anything's open," he said. Powell added that he and Dole had not had any specific discussion about his role.

In the smoky hall crowded with men who shared Dole's experiences as a wounded combat veteran of World War II, support for Dole might seem assured.

Certainly he had many fans.

"I think he's terrific. He's a veteran and he stands for American values," said Jerry A. Straus, 46, of Natchez, Miss., a Vietnam War veteran.

But some concerns were voiced about Dole's commitment to protecting veterans programs from budget cuts -- particularly because of his proposal to cut taxes while balancing the budget.

Veterans health benefits and hospitals were among the targets of budget-cutters in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Few of those cuts went through, but neither did the veterans programs grow as beneficiaries had hoped.

"Dole went along with some things in Congress that I didn't like, things that cut the national defense budget," said Neil R. Ransdale of Florida, 71, who served 21 years in the Navy.

He's worried that Dole would support further curbs on defense spending.

The GOP nominee tried to answer such concerns.

"There are those who believe that we can't balance the budget, that we can't cut taxes, that we can't do it," Dole said.

"They also want you to believe that our plan will mean drastic cuts for programs like Medicare, Social Security and veterans benefits."

Dole responded with the same answer given by Gen. Anthony McAulliffe, of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, when the German army demanded the surrender of U.S. forces at Bastogne, France: "Nuts," he said.

His answer did not persuade everyone in the audience.

"It's all political pap. He didn't say anything about the issues as far as I'm concerned," said Normand R. Gaoette, Florida state commander of the VFW who voted for Clinton but is considering a switch to Dole.

"I want to know exactly what he's going to do about getting more money to these veterans programs."

Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to address the VFW convention today, standing in for Clinton.

Ross Perot, making his second bid for the presidency, is due to speak to the group tomorrow.

Dole also was accompanied yesterday by his running mate, Jack Kemp, who played only a minor role.

He introduced Powell, who in turn introduced the presidential candidate.

No mention was made of Kemp's military service, which included a stint in the Army Reserves from 1958 to 1961.

Kemp's unit was ordered to active duty in October 1961 as tensions built between the United States and the Soviet Union after the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall several months earlier.

But Kemp was granted a medical exemption because of a left shoulder injury he received while playing professional football a month earlier.

Kemp continued playing football that year as quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, using his good right arm to throw passes.

Reports of Kemp's medical exemption were first raised during his unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988 and have surfaced again since Dole tapped Kemp for his ticket.

Kemp said in 1988 that he did not seek the exemption.

Some Dole aides had suggested that the campaign might try to address the matter directly. But Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield said yesterday it is a "non-issue."

For his part, Powell warmly praised Kemp yesterday as "one of the most inspiring men I have ever known -- a man who exudes his love for his country."

Dole, who has been making veiled references to Clinton's efforts to avoid the draft, did not repeat yesterday his line of last week that those who had served their country were "better Americans."

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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