RUSSELL, Kan. — Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole on Friday night picked as his running mate Jack Kemp, the former professional football star, congressman, Cabinet secretary and fervent advocate of supply-side economics, sources said.
The Dole campaign was withholding official word until a ceremony here today, but Kemp was reported to be bound for this small central Kansas town on a chartered jet late Friday night.
A source close to Kemp said: "It's 100%. They are already printing up the signs."
Throughout the day, speculation had targeted the silver-haired Kemp as Dole's potential running mate. Late Friday night, campaign press secretary Nelson Warfield would not deny reports of Kemp's selection.
"I will just say the curtain goes up tomorrow," Warfield said. "We're going to take back the White House, and we've added a great player to the stage with us."
There is "an expectation that it's Kemp," said one top Dole aide Friday night. "We're not steering people away from Kemp, but we're not confirming it. We want Dole to make news tomorrow."
Dole made the call at 8:06 PDT from the red-brick home on Maple Street where he grew up. Shortly into the 15-minute conversation, the yes came, Warfield said.
"It was a very upbeat and positive and energetic conversation," Warfield said, carefully steering clear of revealing the running mate's name. "They discussed both politics and policy issues. Sen. Dole was very excited to have his ticket underway."
Interviewed Friday afternoon as he left Florida after a speaking engagement, Kemp, 61, generally deflected questions about his discussions with the Dole camp other than to quip: "Quarterbacks are always ready."
Dole is scheduled to formally unveil his now-complete ticket here today at a rally at the courthouse where the former Senate majority leader served as a county attorney. He and his running mate then are to fly together Sunday to San Diego, where Republicans will hold their nominating convention.
For Kemp, that means he will spend the week of the convention just miles from where he first gained national attention--as quarterback for the San Diego Chargers in the early 1960s. He later played with the Buffalo Bills, then won election to the U.S. House from a Buffalo-area district. After almost 20 years in Congress and a failed presidential bid in 1988, he served as Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Bush administration.
The extent to which Kemp, a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Fairfax High School and Occidental College, will give a boost to Dole's campaign remains to be seen. But as word spread throughout Friday that he appeared to be the choice, the initial reaction from both GOP leaders and rank-and-file party members was highly favorable.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), a respected figure within the antiabortion movement and the chairman of the party's platform committee, said Kemp's selection would be "exciting."
"I think he'll bring vitality, energy, ideas" to the GOP's national campaign, Hyde said.
Kemp is opposed to abortion, but he has a generally moderate record on other social issues. And he has pushed Republicans to make greater efforts to appeal to minorities. Referring to that, Hyde said: "He's a master at outreach, something a winning party needs, especially one that's down in the polls."
Signaling this potential attractiveness to a GOP ticket, Warfield said Kemp "is one GOP candidate who has broad appeal right off the bat to independents and Democrats."
California Gov. Pete Wilson said that he believes Kemp would be "very well accepted" within the party.
Even a Democratic political consultant, Darry Sragow of Los Angeles, saluted the selection. "I think it's a good choice. Not that I want Bob Dole to do well, but I think he will do better by naming someone who appeals to that vast middle that determines the outcome of general elections."
But the mood was gloomy at the San Diego headquarters of Patrick J. Buchanan, Dole's major rival in this year's presidential primaries. Buchanan was not available for comment, but his spokesman, John Condit, grumbled about Kemp's credentials as an authentic conservative.
"He's got problems, and not just in the Buchanan camp," Condit said, "because he's moving steadily to the center. I don't think he even considers himself a conservative."
And among those Californians who fought for passage two years ago of Proposition 187, the initiative to deny public services to illegal immigrants, word that Kemp would be Dole's choice was greeted with anger and dismay. That's because Kemp earned their enmity by opposing the measure, a position that also put him at odds with Dole and the emerging 1996 GOP platform.
A conference of immigration-control activists took place Friday in downtown San Diego, just blocks from the convention site, and those attending warned that Kemp's inclusion on the Republican ticket would be disastrous to Dole's hopes of carrying California.