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Dole Still Ready to Mince Words

Politics: He reportedly is upset with acceptance speech and wants last-minute rewrites. One speech writer leaves town, others take over.


SAN DIEGO — From the outside, it had seemed like a good day for Bob Dole's presidential campaign. A well-received vice presidential choice had led into a smoothly running convention. Several polls even showed him cutting in half President Clinton's once-formidable lead.

Behind the scenes, though, there was trouble Tuesday. The subject was Dole's acceptance speech, which he will deliver tonight. According to sources familiar with his meeting with campaign aides, Dole was angry.

The former Kansas senator had been practicing the speech at a poolside TelePrompTer at the La Jolla home of orthopedic surgeon Bill McColl. He was joined by speech writer Mark Helprin and campaign communications director John Buckley.

Publicly, Dole press secretary Nelson Warfield insisted that "we're getting real close" to a final text.

But privately, Dole had been asking for changes. And at Tuesday's meeting with his aides, sources said, he complained angrily that he had not been getting them. According to those familiar with the meeting, Dole said that his speech writers had been resisting his suggestions, that his presidential chances were on the line and they were not being responsive.

The acceptance speech before a national television audience is crucially important, Dole had said.

He "has said to me for the last three months that there are three big events that will shape the campaign: vice-presidential choice, acceptance speech and debates," said Robert Ellsworth, Dole's longtime friend and advisor. The vice presidential choice of Jack Kemp, which Ellsworth had shepherded, appeared to have gone well. The debates are still weeks away. But the speech is tonight.

Dole told reporters Wednesday that the speech-writing was going "great."

"You're gonna like it." Asked if he had changed the draft, which has been in the works since late April, Dole said: "Oh, you always change a few things around."

"Speech-writing is a little bit of a messy process," said Buckley. "It has been a process of Bob Dole converting it, sentence by sentence, in alchemical fashion, into what is clearly his speech."

Offstage, however, the candidate's anger was quickly felt. Wednesday morning, Helprin, the novelist and sometime contributor to the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, who had written Dole's much-admired speech on his departure from the Senate--and publicly taken credit for it--had himself departed San Diego.

Buckley too may face problems, according to some campaign sources, who said that the arguments over the speech came after several weeks in which Dole has been intermittently critical of his communications director.

The official line from the Dole campaign was that Helprin had left simply because his work was done and he dislikes conventions.

Warfield denied reports that the candidate had torn the address up and that Helprin had left in anger.

"There was no speech abuse," Warfield said. "The speech is terrific. It continues to be tweaked, like any other speech would."

But sources close to the Dole campaign said that in place of Helprin, Dole had turned for final rewriting to two old confidants: Richard Norton Smith, who had ghost-written "Unlimited Partners," the autobiography of Bob and Elizabeth Hanford Dole; and Kerry Tymchuk, who had written speeches for both Doles for seven years.

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