SAN DIEGO -- Hitching his campaign to a conservative initiative that he hopes will propel him to victory in California, GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole told voters yesterday that it would be a hollow victory if they voted to end state affirmative-action programs but re-elected President Clinton.
Dole warned that a second Clinton administration would undermine the California Civil Rights Initiative, a ballot proposition that would end racial considerations in state hiring, contracting and university admissions.
Recent polls indicate the initiative, Proposition 209 on next Tuesday's ballot, is favored by a margin of 12 to 15 percentage points, while Dole is trailing Clinton by as much as 20 points in California.
"The voters of California must understand that passing CCRI will require two votes: one for the measure itself, and one for an American president who will not undermine it after it's passed," Dole told an audience of 300 supporters of the initiative during a morning speech.
"Not only does the Clinton administration oppose CCRI, it has worked to defend and expand racial preferences, even when states and courts try to remove them," Dole said.
Although Dole first endorsed the initiative last March, before the California primary, and has spoken favorably of it on numerous occasions, the controversial issue hasn't been a centerpiece of his campaign in the state until now.
The Dole camp has declared that California, with a fifth of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, is its priority in the campaign's final days.
Dole acknowledged that his endorsement of the initiative ran counter to his vote in Congress for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he contended that the law "didn't work" and he quoted the late liberal Democratic Sen. Hubert Humphrey in disavowing the law as creating an unintended quota system.
"Government programs that started as temporary and limited have become permanent and broad," Dole said. "As Hubert Humphrey predicted, preferences have become a source of polarization, pitting group against group. They have given government sanction to racial tension, creating distinctions that become barriers, that become battlegrounds."
Dole's speech indicated that staunch proponents of the conservative strategy, such as Gov. Pete Wilson and campaign manager Scott Reed, had persuaded the candidate to link himself strongly to Proposition 209.
Other prominent Republicans, such as vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and retired Gen. Colin Powell, had counseled against using the affirmative action issue.
The Clinton camp declared yesterday that "the Dole campaign has adopted a desperate, negative tactic, one at odds with their previous strategy."
In his speech, Dole indicated that while he strongly endorsed the initiative, calling it a "great principle that racial distinctions have no place in our lives or in our laws," he was mindful of pushing a hot button.
"It is important for all of us to be careful, because feelings on this issue run high. It is easy for demagogues, of either side, to play on fear and resentment," he said. "Even as we reject preferences, we must also reject prejudice, and even as we oppose quotas, we must also oppose scapegoating and stereotyping."
Moreover, Dole said, his administration would enforce anti-discrimination laws, and he appealed to women and minority voters, notably Asian-Americans, by asserting that quotas are sometimes counterproductive.
"Opponents of CCRI falsely charge that it is merely a response to the anger of white males. But we have seen, in case after case, that quotas and preferences have also hurt women and Asian-Americans," Dole said. "In the end, we are talking about more than winners and losers. Americans of every background understand that we are talking about principle."
In one of his few digs at Clinton, Dole added, "Principle; I know it doesn't mean much to this administration."
In addition, congressional Republicans stepped up their pitch that looks past Dole's fortunes to say that Clinton, if elected, should not have the "blank check" of a Democratic Congress.
Dole told CNN, "I may not" be at peace in the event of a loss. "I may not -- depends on how it comes out.
"I'm not going to jump off a building -- jump or go over the cliff. It seems to me, we made the best effort we could," he said.
Pub Date: 10/29/96