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GOP CONVENTION '96 | FROM THE FLOOR

Conventional Partisanship Is in Full Sail

August 11, 1996|BILL BOYARSKY and AMY WALLACE

SAN DIEGO — The photo of Jack Kemp was missing from its place of honor in Msgr. Joe Carroll's cluttered office Saturday morning. Already, San Diego's indefatigable advocate for the homeless had sent the portrait of Bob Dole's running mate out to be enlarged.

We visited Carroll as we began what will be our daily chronicle of the convention you won't see on television. Carroll, who runs a nationally known program that provides meals, shelter, counseling, job training and health care to the homeless and the working poor, was plainly thrilled about the selection of Kemp as the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Carroll's headquarters is two miles from the convention center, in a largely Latino neighborhood. To get there, you pass a tortilla factory, a tire outlet and several liquor stores. This is the inner city that Carroll thinks Kemp can help save.

"He opens up the big tent to the forgotten," Carroll said. "The poor have gotten a voice."

*

Enthusiasm for Kemp was just as strong in the back room of the Fish Market, a popular waterside restaurant and delegate hangout. As word spread about Kemp's selection, a few of Sacramento's most powerful lobbyists celebrated.

"We were going to have a little party for Kemp this week, but now it will be a big one," said Bill Campbell, president of the California Manufacturers Assn.

The joy of the lobbyists and the priest are examples of Kemp's all-encompassing style. He has a blue-collar heart and an old union card to prove it. Thirteen years a National Football League quarterback, he was also a leader of the players' union.

Still, his low-tax economic philosophy and ex-jock style make him a business favorite. The unanswered question: Will this unusual combination turn off his party's hard-line ideologues?

*

They've been doing it since 1872, and Saturday afternoon the National Republican Glee Club was at it again in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel. Their song: "Bob Dole is the Guy" (to the tune of "Hey, Look Me Over"). Catchiest lines: "For he will plug the loopholes, not pull the cork. Balance the budget, cut out lots of pork."

*

Breakfast with Diane and Richard Freeman and 250 other San Diego County Republicans: They had turned out to hear R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the editor of the American Spectator magazine, promote his contribution to the growing list of anti-Bill Clinton books, "Boy Clinton."

The Freemans, from Rancho Santa Fe, seemed less than excited to be seated across from journalists. "We were warned about you," Diane said.

This is a common feeling here. Richard said he knew the media were biased. Two years ago, Diane saw a network news crew taping Clinton as he played golf with O.J. Simpson. (This seemed improbable, but we called the Del Mar Country Club and confirmed it.) Weeks later, Simpson was on trial for murder, but the golf footage was not broadcast. The Freemans were incredulous.

We suggested the TV people might have felt the golf game was irrelevant to the story of the murders. No, Richard replied, they "covered up that video."

*

Republican pro-choice women, disappointed in their party platform, are calling the inclusion of their views about abortion at the end of the document "the Neil Armstrong appendix." Explained Lynn Grefe, political director of the Republican Pro-Choice PAC, "One giant step for the Republican party. One very, very small step for choice."

*

A lot of convention-related events are more commercial than political. Johnston & Murphy's presidential shoe tour, for example, features the footwear of 12 former presidents (Abraham Lincoln's black chukka boot, Ronald Reagan's classic cap toe).

Tiffany's had a more elegant version of the same gimmick: a lavish party to promote their collection of historic American jewelry (and, of course, the other pricey items in the store). Tiffany's exemplifies Republican entrepreneurism: Its founder started the business by selling off surplus pieces of the first trans-Atlantic cable.

At a display case we encountered a plain-spoken woman from rural Arkansas, Mildred Hoffman, the state's GOP national committeewoman.

Hoffman examined the gems as a harpist played and waiters passed out champagne and orange juice and dainty hors d'oeuvres of quiche and caviar. Hoffman, like us, seemed accustomed to more solid fare.

But she was more interested in blasting Clinton than in eating.

"I don't think he's trustworthy," she said. Her disdain for Clinton was personal as well as political. "We live in a resort area in northern Arkansas and they put a prison there, 300 or 400 prisoners," she said. "It's 10 miles from our place."

She asked if we'd ever been to Arkansas. We said no.

"It's a nice state," she said. "It doesn't deserve [its] reputation."

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