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GOP Bigwigs Take to State's Rails to Beat Drums for Their Side

Electioneering: A train journey trumpets party and raises money too. Donors pay $1,500 to enter car carrying Newt Gingrich and Curt Pringle.


ABOARD THE VICTORY EXPRESS — Trying to evoke images of old-time whistle-stop campaigns, Republican leaders traveled down the California coast in an 11-car, 15-hour train ride Saturday, touting presumptive GOP nominee Bob Dole's new running mate, Jack Kemp, and bashing President Clinton.

"Our candidate in California is called 'Tax Cut,' and their candidate is called 'Tax Increase,' " declared House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who joined the train in San Luis Obispo en route to the GOP national convention in San Diego.

The flag-waving and placard-carrying politicians hoped to inspire party loyalists with trackside rallies in GOP strongholds in Southern California-- and raise $500,000 for Republican campaigns.

Crowds numbering from several dozen to 1,000 greeted the train as it made its stops. At some, politicians stopped to give speeches; at others, they just waved from the rear platform.

"We have a mission, the same mission all of you have: to elect a Republican team," California Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) said to a cheering crowd at the Glendale train station.

But at every stop, the Republicans were dogged by Democratic demonstrators.


The train, rented from Amtrak at a cost of $75,000, left before dawn from one of California's least Republican cities, Oakland. "Why are the Republicans invading our town?" demanded teachers' union organizer Margaret Shelleda, who carried a sign and chanted with a few dozen other union activists at the Oakland depot.

Among about 350 passengers on the train were George P. Shultz, former secretary of state for President Reagan, and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Reagan's United Nations ambassador.

Former Reagan political advisor Edward J. Rollins had been on the passenger list, as had former Rep. Michael Huffington, raising the prospect of open confrontation. In his new book, "Back Rooms and Bare Knuckles," Rollins, who managed Huffington's 1994 U.S. Senate race, is brutal in his descriptions of the candidate and his wife.

Rollins was a no-show, however. Huffington boarded in San Luis Obispo.

While Rollins' book was the stuff of gossip, the talk of the train was Dole's choice of Kemp as his running mate. The collective prediction--and hope--was that Kemp, with his interest in economic issues and tax reductions, will give the GOP ticket a major boost in California.

Such issues aside, Assemblyman James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) displayed his penchant for political trivia: Who gave the speech at the 1972 Republican convention nominating Richard Nixon's running mate, Spiro T. Agnew? Answer: a young congressman from Buffalo, N.Y.

Rogan said he bumped into Kemp not long ago and mentioned that 1972 nominating speech.

" 'Jim, you have a good memory. Too good,' " Rogan quoted Kemp as telling him.

Individual donors paid $1,500 each to gain access to the car reserved for Gingrich and Pringle. Major sponsors paid $25,000 and more, entitling them to even greater access and luxury.

The larger donors included the state's prison guard union, a liquor industry trade group, oil companies, developers and Miller Brewing, a subsidiary of tobacco giant Philip Morris.

In San Luis Obispo, several Democrats donned "Mr. Butthead" costumes, a slap at Dole's recent comments questioning whether nicotine is addictive.

"They are paid. They show up everywhere we go," said John Herrington, chairman of the California Republican Party.

Herrington expected to bring in as much as $500,000 in donations from the train ride and a beach party today in San Diego. The festivities are to include a volleyball tournament, a sandcastle-building contest and a performance by Jan and Dean.


While the beach party may turn out to be a huge success, the hype for the train ride, which promised "gourmet food [and] hobnobbing with your favorite elected officials," seemed a bit of an overstatement.

"Gourmet" was a loose description of the eats, and for the first five hours of the ride there were only three elected officials--Pringle, Rogan and Rep. Bill Baker (R-Danville).

Well before sunrise, Pringle gamely extolled the brilliance of Dole's selection of Kemp, but as 5 a.m. conversations are wont to do, this one hit a lull.

"Dawn on a train, with two members of the press, in San Jose," Pringle said, a trace of wonder in his voice. "Yes, Mr. Speaker, big-time politics doesn't get any better than this."

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