Presidential rivals hurl holiday pitches Clinton, Dole, Perot vie for attention

September 02, 1996|By Karen Hosler, Carl Cannon, Frank Langfitt

The day before the traditional Labor Day kickoff to the presidential campaign, the three candidates vied for attention yesterday -- Bob Dole and Ross Perot during competing national television appearances and President Clinton in his home state of Arkansas.

In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" last night, Dole made a broad declaration that he would not raise taxes as president. Aides said the statement referred to tax rates, but did not preclude closing loopholes and getting rid of some tax breaks, many of which are already in his economic plan.

In earlier appearances in Washington, the Republican presidential nominee described the Clinton administration's cautious response to the latest Iraqi provocations as an example of what he called "a failure of American leadership," and he pledged to use the National Guard to fight drugs.

Clinton came back to a bittersweet homecoming in Little Rock yesterday, lately the site of Whitewater-related trials. The city served as a resting stop for Clinton, and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, too -- a welcome respite after his eight-day planes, trains and automobiles trip through Middle America.

Returning to his strategy of four years ago, Perot took to the airwaves last night in a half-hour commercial on ABC in which he criticized the two major parties for failing to address the nation's impending "financial meltdown" and, in a departure, asked viewers to contribute to his campaign.

Dole used an address to thousands of members of the National Guard Association to charge that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had been encouraged to move against the minority Kurds within his country because Clinton has failed to signal strong U.S. objections.

"Saddam's latest brutality against the Kurds further demonstrates that America's friends and allies in the region will never be truly safe as long as this bloody dictator remains in power, and as long as the United States fails to lead," Dole said.

Over the past two days, more than 30,000 of Hussein's Republican Guard have moved into the protected Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, captured the town of Irbil and shelled another Kurdish stronghold. Dole quoted Vice President Al Gore as saying yesterday morning that the situation requires "careful analysis" and "careful observation."

"Now, I'm not a rocket scientist but I don't think we need to analyze Saddam's action. We need to condemn it," Dole said in (( repeating his message during a speech later to the B'nai B'rith national convention. "He must know every day that we will not tolerate the action he took so freely."

The Republican candidate also took to the National Guard yesterday one of his top two domestic issues -- stemming the tide of drug abuse in America, which he says is rising after subsiding during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Dole blamed what he called "a new message" on drugs that came out of the White House after Clinton's election that could be read in cuts to drug-fighting programs, including a nearly one-third reduction from $230 million annually to $158 million in National Guard money for drug interdiction.

The former Senate majority leader pledged that as president he would restore full funding to the National Guard and broaden the scope of its task in helping to block illegal drugs from entering the country.

Dole also displayed his wry sense of humor about his standing in the polls. He noted that his wife, Red Cross President Elizabeth H. Dole, had visited "natural disasters" throughout the world. "That doesn't include my campaign, of course," he quipped.

Clinton in Arkansas

The last time the president visited Little Rock was in December. Jim Guy Tucker, the man who succeeded Clinton as governor, is now out of office, having been convicted of fraud in a case brought by Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr.

And James B. and Susan McDougal, the Clinton's former partners in the Whitewater Development Corp., were convicted of fraud and conspiracy. Susan McDougal was sentenced to two years in prison. Her former husband is cooperating with Starr.

But the city was full of the "Arkansas! Clinton Proud" T-shirts his supporters wore at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the crowd that assembled at the convention center to send off on yet another autumn campaign was warm and personal. At church yesterday, Rex M. Horne Jr., Clinton's hometown pastor, began the service with a simple: "Mr. President, welcome home."

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you!" Clinton told the crowd at a downtown rally on the steps of the Old Statehouse, where he accepted victory four years ago. "This is a treasure for me," he said.

The Clintons arrived with Sen. David Pryor, as well as top White House official Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III. They were joined on the podium by folk singer Judy Collins, who performed her 1969 single "Chelsea Morning," which inspired the name of the first daughter.

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