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Dole Mixes Business, Gender Gap

Campaign: Candidate proposes tax and regulatory reform to entrepreneurial women as he tries to remedy one of his electoral weaknesses.


McKEES ROCKS, Pa. — Courting small businesses and struggling to close his troubling gender gap in one fell swoop, Bob Dole pledged Wednesday to help female-owned companies and attacked government policies that "put up enough barriers in your way almost to ensure failure."

Traveling with Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas J. Ridge, one of his potential vice-presidential candidates, Dole unveiled a plan to help small businesses, which he noted are increasingly owned by women.

His proposals included restoring a full tax deduction for home offices; he touted this break as allowing parents to "stay at home with your children!"

He also called for increasing the tax deduction for health insurance for the self-employed to 100%, from 30%, convening a White House conference on female-owned enterprises and providing an array of breaks from government regulation for small businesses.

"If they were going to make putting barriers in the way of small business an Olympic event, then I can tell you that President Clinton would walk away with a gold medal," Dole told a crowd at a manufacturing plant in this town near Pittsburgh, Pa.

Dole's goal for the day was to offer himself as one who understands the concerns of women, especially those who are entrepreneurs. The political motive underlying the theme was to chip away at the disproportionate support Clinton enjoys among female voters, a key factor in the president's large lead over Dole in several national polls.

As Dole campaigned in Pennsylvania, a traditionally swing state where a new poll showed him trailing Clinton by 24 percentage points, all the symbols were in place for the woman-wooing bid:

* Dole traveled with Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), a new mother and a supporter of abortion rights who will deliver the keynote address at next month's Republican National Convention. Molinari lauded the presumed GOP presidential nominee's record on issues affecting women.

* He appeared at two separate female-owned businesses, the first a manufacturer of the oversized paper clip called Super Clip, the second a Philadelphia-area cookie-dough maker. "Women own 7.9 million businesses, businesses that employ one out of four American workers," Dole said during his first stop. "And these numbers are likely to increase in coming years, as women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. Think about it."

* Ridge, one of the few abortion-rights supporters among the more frequently mentioned running-mate prospects, introduced the candidate throughout the day.

Dole was in fine form, staying on point and often expressing himself eloquently.

He linked the tragic crash of TWA Flight 800--in which several residents of a small Pennsylvania town perished--with the courage of gymnast Kerri Strug, who helped the U.S. Olympic women's team win a gold medal after injuring her leg. "We're a big, big country," he said in McKees Rock and later in the community of King of Prussia. "We suffer enormous tragedy and herald enormous triumph."

He joked about his first venue--a warehouse at Ace Wire Spring & Form, maker of the Super Clip, which promises to "securely grip over 100 sheets of paper at a time."

Said Dole: "I'm willing to bet that this is the first time in presidential history that a candidate is able to say, 'I'm proud to be here today in this clip joint.' "

Molinari, whom Dole thanked for campaigning with him while her husband, Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) baby-sat their infant daughter, was quick to acknowledge the gender gap that "shows up in poll after poll against Republican candidates, all of us, even female candidates."

"And the fact remains that some Republicans and some Democrats deserve to have a gender gap," she said. "Not Bob Dole."

Dole reached back to his childhood to tell his crowds where he comes by his knowledge of the struggles of small businesses. He is proud, he said, that both of his parents were small-business owners. "During the week, my mother sold Singer sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, loaded 'em up in her car every morning and drove all over that part of our state," he recounted. "On Saturday morning, she would conduct sewing classes in a little shop downtown. Times were tough and every penny counted, and the money my mother earned made a big difference for our family."

The former Kansas senator slammed Clinton for what he called the president's "assault on America's small-business community." He took particular aim at the administration's 1993 tax increase, which he said boosted taxes 30% to 40% on many small businesses.

He said Clinton "has continued to stand in the way of almost every attempt to reduce the burden of taxation and regulation that stifles small-business growth."

Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart countered that the administration had spurred small-business growth through its economic policies and created more opportunities for female business owners. "As we've come to expect, Bob Dole has a knack for finding fault with record-breaking performances," Lockhart said.

In outlining his proposals to aid small businesses--part of his as-yet undelivered economic package--Dole occasionally lapsed into hard-to-decipher Senate-speak.

"I will create an interagency regulatory sun-setting task force to be chaired by the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the administrator of the Small Business Administration," he said.

He later explained the task force would be charged with reviewing all federal regulations and identifying those that are excessive or unnecessary.

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