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For Dole, Life Seems So Good

GOP: The crowds are adoring, the weather warm--and the candidate is enjoying himself, exuding joy and self-confidence.


SAN DIEGO — Looking California casual in khakis and a checked, mustard-colored jacket, Bob Dole exuded joy and self-confidence as he bopped around town on Monday.

Dole often says that the good things in his life did not come easy. Certainly the last year has been a difficult one--a primary campaign in which he nearly lost his political balance, an extended spat with Patrick J. Buchanan that ended in a "temporary truce" only this week and a summer full of campaign glitches and self-inflicted gaffes on everything from abortion to tobacco.

But now, finally, he is here. After a hero's welcome Sunday, the convention was at last underway, and soon he would be anointed the GOP's standard-bearer--and without a fight, after all.

The crowds are adoring, the weather is warm--he could practice his speech outside, standing by a lap pool--and Dole is, well, enjoying himself--perhaps as never before.

"It's all started now. We're going to have a good convention, and I feel good about it," Dole told reporters after lunch with his wife and his running mate at a popular Mexican restaurant in Old Town.

The other afternoon, as they steamed on a ferry across San Diego harbor, the taciturn Kansan confided to his wife, Elizabeth: "I'm getting excited." To which his loquacious wife replied: "Well, it's about time."

Indeed, life seemed so good that it did not matter if he couldn't quite grasp how microprocessors help drive gas turbines.

After touring the world's largest manufacturer of industrial gas turbine engines on Monday, where he also witnessed a demonstration of the firm's e-mail system, Dole had a confession to make.

"A lot of these things," he told several hundred employees of Solar Turbines Inc., "I don't understand."

But what he did understand, Dole added, was that a lot of horsepower is involved, and horsepower is precisely what Jack Kemp is bringing to the GOP ticket.

With that segue, Dole was off and running, delivering a well-focused, fire-in-the-belly campaign speech that cheered his advisors and delighted many of the workers.

This, Dole strategists said joyfully, is the Dole that America can expect to see Thursday night as he gives his acceptance speech, which he is working on even as he cruises around town, kibitzing with strangers.

"What you're seeing is a candidate who's brimming with self-confidence--because his economic message is transforming the race and because his choice for vice president has unified the party and met with universal acclaim," said John Buckley, Dole's communications director--indulging in the sort of hyperbole that is expected at political conventions.

Dole spent a good part of the day in La Jolla at a private oceanfront home, working on his acceptance speech at the poolside TelePrompTer. In the evening, he returned to his suite at the Hyatt hotel to watch his convention on television with some friends.

"Getting better, getting better," he told reporters when asked how the speech was coming. "Longer than some, shorter than others."

Dole gave the workers at Solar Turbines something of a preview, confronting charges from Democrats that his call for a broad 15% cut in tax rates is a cynical campaign gambit to win votes.

Noting that many voters believe politicians will "tell you anything to get elected, well, let me assure you that I want a constitutional amendment to balance the budget; I'm going to balance the budget by the year 2002. But I can also tell you that as a budget-deficit hawk that we can do that and cut taxes at the same time and give more money back to you."

Dole ended his pitch by uttering what is supposed to be his campaign slogan: "a better man for a better America"--something that he regularly omits, to the dismay of his staff.

Dole was accompanied to Solar Turbines by California Gov. Pete Wilson, who spoke enthusiastically about Dole.

Things got even better for Dole as the day went on. From Solar Turbines, Dole walked into the Old Town Mexican Cafe alone at 12:11 p.m. to find an empty table for four in the center of the dining room.

He was barely seated before a plate of quesadillas, rice and refried beans emerged from the kitchen, and a mariachi band appeared, striking up "Cielito Lindo."

Not far behind was Elizabeth Dole, who was soon followed by "the quarterback"--Kemp--who delighted the diners by making fake blocking motions all the way to his own new hero.

The Doles and the Kemps later paid a courtesy call on George and Barbara Bush, and the former president was right on message.

"We just couldn't be happier," Bush said.

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