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GOP CONVENTION '96 | FROM THE FLOOR

Winners, Losers--and a Horse Race

August 12, 1996|BILL BOYARSKY and AMY WALLACE

SAN DIEGO — We ran into California's surprise Republican convention winner Sunday morning in the hallway of the state delegation's hotel. Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren unexpectedly became the highest-ranking Californian to speak at the convention after Gov. Pete Wilson was run off the program by the party's dominant antiabortion wing.

Lungren was upbeat. Chatting in the hallway at the Sheraton Harbor Island, we asked him about his good fortune. Luck of the draw, he said. He explained that he is in charge of the platform's economic plank, which has suddenly become the centerpiece of the Republican presidential campaign. It is his job to present the complex plan. Trouble is, he said, he's only got three minutes to do it.

Wilson has been a good sport, at least publicly, about being upstaged by Lungren. After his humiliating banishment from the program, the governor has refused to publicly criticize convention managers. This could look wimpy. But it seems like Wilson has a secret agenda. On Sunday, he continued to work the abortion-rights circuit, appearing with soul mates Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine at a reception. In addition, some of his top political hands helped organize the campaign against the party's antiabortion plank. These efforts will be remembered by Republicans--nearly half of whom support abortion rights--if Wilson decides to run for president again.

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Everyone thought newspaper magnate Al Neuharth was betting on the longest of longshots when he started USA Today. Over the weekend at the Del Mar race track, he picked another winner when he bet $15 on Dare And Go, a 39-1 choice who upset the heavily favored Cigar. Neuharth walked away with more than $600, proving once again that the rich get richer. Or, as the Bob Dole-Jack Kemp campaign is saying, don't count out the longshot.

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Some of the organizations here have names so long they're indecipherable. The Committee to Promote the Intolerance of Intolerant Liberals, for example. Others aren't even real. Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover, or HALTO, is the brainchild of Lalo Lopez, a member of the comedy trio Chicano Secret Service. He is here promoting a spoof ballot initiative called "S.P.I.C. 'n SPAN" (or Stop Promoting Illegal Culture and Spanish) to outlaw activities that encourage illegal immigration. On his gag list of prohibited activities: eating in a restaurant where immigrants are known to wash dishes, allowing a hotel maid to clean your room and saying words in Spanish, such as San Diego, California.

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Overblown Rhetoric Dept.: Just half an hour after Dole and Kemp sailed over to the convention center, about 100 boats carrying abortion-rights banners and supporters floated by. Ann Stone, chairwoman of Republicans for Choice, joked that the armada was inspired by the evacuation of Dunkirk, the historic harbor from which Allied troops were rescued during World War II.

"Just as [Churchill] sent a fleet of small boats to save the country, we are sending a fleet of small boats to save the party," said Stone. Dunkirk? That's where brave Brits, from wealthy yachtsmen to poor fishermen, sailed across the English Channel to rescue 338,000 Allied troops under German fire. That's a far cry from a Sunday cruise in the sunny San Diego Bay.

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The Clinton campaign's rapid-response team has set up shop in the former corporate headquarters of surfwear manufacturer Hang Ten. In offices still adorned by photos of surfers, these guerrilla warriors are staying up late plotting ways to, like, wipe out those they dismiss as the pasty pool boys of the GOP.

We walked 14 blocks to their offices the other day. David Eichenbaum, the Democratic National Committee's communications director, handed us a freshly minted "Top 10 Reasons Behind Bob Dole's VP Pick." It wasn't funny enough to make our column. Neither was Sunday's offering--a series of heavy-handed billboard slogans. We told him to keep trying.

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Saturday night's fireworks display put on by the Copley Newspapers was the best we'd ever seen. One missile exploded in the shape of an elephant, and some of the music was so militaristic that for a moment we lost our heads and imagined ourselves to be Pat and "Bay" Buchanan, the Republican right wing's favorite brother-sister team. But some of our colleagues who work for the Copley organization don't share our enthusiasm. They're engaged in a long-running labor dispute with the newspaper and are worried that with all the fancy pyrotechnics, their hopes for a pay raise went up in smoke.

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The Alternative Media Center--the nerve center for 100 liberal protest groups--celebrated its opening with pinatas resembling Clinton and Dole. Barbara Storey, the center's coordinator, said they considered a papier-mache Buchanan as well, but were afraid that people would swing their bats so wildly at his likeness that they might "kill each other. . . . People might go insane."

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