Kemp makes case for diverse GOP Campaign: Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp seeks inroads onto political turf where his party has been weak.

Campaign 1996

September 14, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ALBANY, Ga. -- In factories, he's a union brother. In Harlem, he's a soul brother. He can speak Spanish and Yiddish with an authentic ring. Economic and social conservatives alike regard him as one of their own.

As the No. 2 man on the Republican ticket, Jack Kemp's critical assignment is to draw on his unusually diverse background and interests to mine votes in areas where Bob Dole is weak. He has a large and wide-ranging portfolio.

"With every ounce of energy I have in my body, I'm going to make sure this campaign is not going to be like any campaign you have ever seen in your life," Kemp told the predominantly Hispanic workers at a door factory in New Jersey on Tuesday.

The son of a Spanish teacher, Kemp dated a rabbi's daughter in high school, learned civil rights in the locker rooms of professional football, represented an ethnic blue-collar district in Congress and became a national guru of tax cuts as an engine of prosperity. He is at home in places where Republicans often fear to tread.

His campaign turf extends from the Republican hard right, where Dole's conservative bona fides are sometimes questioned, to the left-leaning fringes of black, Jewish and Latino communities that favor Democrats. He's also reaching out for swing voters in the unions and trying to shore up the Republican base in the #F suburbs.

Kemp's sunny demeanor and focus on racial harmony could also provide inroads, Dole strategists hope, into that vital voting bloc that Kemp referred to here, in what he quickly recognized as an excess of political correctness, as "female Americans."

"This is fundamentally a part of Bob Dole's commitment to help move the country forward and not leave anyone out or behind," Kemp said in an interview this week on his campaign plane. "I would imagine maybe one of the reasons he picked me is because I have been a Republican who thinks that the best model of politics is inclusion and multiplication, not division and wedges."

Kemp picked up at least one vote in Augusta on Wednesday when he made an emotional appeal to a white audience to donate on the spot to a day-care center run by a black community activist he had just met. It was precisely the kind of bold display that tends to rouse the crowds and that Dole himself is unlikely to attempt.

"I couldn't believe it," said the community activist, Ruth Crawford, who collected $1,770 in cash and checks -- including $100 from the candidate -- after the Savannah riverside rally in which Kemp praised the seventy-something dynamo as a "real American hero."

"The money was one thing, but the speech was also important," she added. "I was so glad he talked about diversity. We need to come together here in Augusta."

Dole's surprise selection of Kemp as his running mate resurrected a political career that had seemed to run aground. Now, Kemp fans say, their man is back on track for the White House -- even if Dole loses.

"If he's a credible candidate and they lose, nobody blames the second guy on the ticket," said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County, who called Kemp "the prototype" for Republicans like him who are running in blue-collar districts.

But the vice-presidential nominee suffered a painful setback early this week, when the Boston Globe published an interview in which Kemp praised as "wonderful" the self-help philosophy behind the "Million Man March" organized by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who is regarded by the Jewish community as an anti-Semitic demagogue.

Kemp, who in addition to his long-ago romance with "Rabbi Nussbaum's daughter, Hannah," had been regarded as one of Israel's best friends in Congress, suddenly found himself under attack from old friends.

The nominee used a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in New York on Tuesday night to try to smooth things over by calling upon Farrakhan to denounce anti-Semitism. Members of the audience said they thought he probably succeeded.

Kemp was bruised, however, by what he considered to be a misunderstanding. He regretted, he said, that he had unwittingly given "the impression that I was praising the messenger."

But he said the message of the "Million Man March" was much like that of Promise Keepers, a Christian organization that sponsors rallies in which he and his sons have taken part.

"Men standing on the Mall, as in Promise Keepers, were pledging themselves to fatherhood, to be good husbands, to seek through self-initiative and self-help the type of solutions to problems that I think should be celebrated," he said.

Some Dole supporters contend that Kemp should be playing the more traditional ticket-mate role of attack dog, poking holes in President Clinton's record, rather than spinning out lofty rhetoric about "equal opportunity" and "liberty and justice for all."

"Why doesn't he talk about Bill Clinton and Bob Dole?" asked a 66-year-old retiree at the Kemp rally in Augusta who did not want his name used. "He's just rambling."

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