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Dole Makes It Clear He's the Boss

August 11, 1996|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RUSSELL, Kan. — At 10:06 on Friday evening here, as Bob Dole sat in the easy chair in the front room of his little house on Maple Street, wife and daughter at his side, he called Jack Kemp, offered him a job and told him a story: Have you heard the one about the vice presidential candidate who overstepped his bounds?

All day long, Dole aides had said, the nominee had just a few last questions to pose to his prospective vice presidential candidate before anointing him as running mate. This was the central one--the heart of the relationship between the two men, the core of the final 15-minute phone call that elevated the former football player to the Republican ticket:

Does Jack Kemp know who's boss?

As is clearly evident by the fact that Dole aides went out of their way to relate such a tale, what we have here are two Alpha males--two big guys on one small ticket--and a massive struggle for image control by the operatives who would get the pair elected.

Kemp and wife Joanne were standing by in a private holding room at Love Field airport in Dallas on Friday night, having left a speech earlier in the day in Orlando, Fla., and raced to Texas by commercial airline. They were waiting for a phone call and, if all went well, transport to a tiny town.

This is what Kemp heard, according to Dole press secretary Nelson Warfield, a very, very eager messenger:

"Dole told a story from the '76 campaign," Warfield said, standing outside of the Dole home Saturday, minutes after the top and bottom of the ticket appeared together for the first time. "Dole was campaigning in Minnesota when he was the veep candidate with President Ford and made some policy pronouncement on [agriculture] price supports.

"Very, very quickly he heard from the top of the ticket, President Ford, indicating that he--Jerry Ford--was the top of the ticket not Bob Dole, the veep," Warfield recounted. "And he shared that with Jack Kemp, and Jack Kemp got the message loud and clear."

Top of the ticket. Veep. Dole. Kemp. These are not interchangeable parts.

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And the opportunities for conflict between the two are many, given the long list of issues on which they disagree. Indeed, the list includes many of the social-policy "wedge" issues Dole strategists hope to use against President Clinton this year: affirmative action (Kemp opposes the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative on this year's California ballot); balanced budget (Kemp opposes adding a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution); crime (Kemp is cool to Dole's idea of trying more juveniles as adults); immigration (Kemp opposed California's Proposition 187); welfare (Kemp strenuously opposed key parts of this year's welfare reform legislation); term limits on officeholders (Kemp remains against them, even as Dole has embraced the idea).

Controlling the No. 2 began with the process of telling the world who that man would be. That was crucial to Dole as the days and hours ticked by before the candidate stepped up to the podium in downtown Russell and introduced "my choice for vice president, a man of unlimited talent, energy and vision, an American original, Jack Kemp."

"Dole had a great deal of expectation over the course of the day" Friday, said communications director John Buckley. "Part was because [Kemp] was a bold choice. Part was a little bit of mischief. He was in control of the story until he made the phone call."

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The story started at the end of June, as Dole told Kemp in the late-night call Friday: "You've been on my radar screen for 45 days. You just didn't know it."

Kemp was one name on a list of 25 possible running mates put together by Dole's VP team since the group was assembled in late April. Headed by Roderick DeArment, the group pared the collection of candidates to nine in the past two weeks. Then two potentials pulled themselves out of the running: Govs. Thomas J. Ridge of Pennsylvania and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Fast forward to Thursday night. Campaign manager Scott Reed called Kemp. "If the offer was forthcoming," he asked, "would you accept it?" Kemp said, "Yes."

Friday morning, Dole flew to Salina, Kan., drove to Abilene, stood before the boyhood home of his hero, Dwight David Eisenhower and reminded supporters of Eisenhower's "final words": "He said: 'I've always loved my wife and my children and my grandchildren. And I've always loved my country.' Not bad. Not bad."

Reed was inside the meditation chapel at the Eisenhower home and library. He called Kemp again. "I was calling to see how his head was," Reed recounted. "It was great."

Two hours later, DeArment and Sheila Burke, Dole's former chief of staff, flew from Washington to Dallas. They did not know who they would be meeting or even whether the vice presidential candidate would be there.

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