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GOP CONVENTION '96

Kemp Accepts Nomination, Vows 'Renewal'

Speech: 'We will speak to every heart' in campaign fight to retake White House, he tells cheering delegates in acceptance address.

August 16, 1996|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Jack Kemp, the quarterback turned congressman and Cabinet secretary, accepted his new role as Republican vice presidential candidate Thursday night with a message of "growth and hope and leadership and cultural renewal" and a potent determination to elect Bob Dole in November.

In a rousing speech delivered to cheering delegates on the closing night of the Republican National Convention, Kemp vowed that the underdog Republican ticket will fight to retake the White House from President Clinton by emphasizing tax cuts and economic growth and offering a new optimism about the nation's future in the last presidential campaign of the century.

"Tonight, I am putting our opponents on notice," Kemp declared. "We are going to ask for the support of every single American. Our appeal of boundless opportunity crosses every barrier of geography, race and belief in America. We're not going to leave anybody out of this opportunity society. We may not get every vote . . . but we will speak to every heart."

Kemp invoked the names of Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan in a broad appeal to Democrats and independents beyond traditional Republican strongholds.

"We're going to take our cause from the boroughs of New York to the barrios of California . . ," Kemp said. "We will carry the word to every man, woman and child of every color and background that today, on the eve of the new American century, it's time to renew the American promise, to recapture the American dream and to give our nation a new birth of freedom . . . with liberty, equality and justice for all."

The 24-minute speech contained only passing mention of the emotionally charged issue of illegal immigration and veiled Kemp's abrupt turnabout on the question since being chosen as Dole's running mate a week ago. He made no mention of affirmative action or abortion.

Instead, the upbeat and optimistic speech sought to portray President Clinton as the status quo guardian of too much government that taxes too much and the GOP as the party of change. In a warmup to Dole's acceptance speech and the campaign to come, Kemp drew the battle lines for the race to the Nov. 5 election.

"Our friends in the other party say the economy is moving forward and it is," Kemp said. "But it is moving like a ship dragging an anchor, the anchor of high taxes, excessive regulation and big government."

Kemp accused the Democratic Party of being made up of elitists who do not have faith in the American people. "They have faith in government. . . . That is why they raised taxes on the middle class. That is why they tried to nationalize our health care system. That is why today they are 'unalterably opposed' to cutting taxes on American families."

The former New York congressman and onetime Cabinet secretary vowed that the first step in a Dole administration will be a 15%, across-the-board cut in tax rates, reducing the capital gains rate by half and a $500 tax credit for children.

"We're going to take the side of the worker, the side of the saver, the entrepreneur, the family," he said. "The American people can use their money more wisely than can government. It's time they had more of a chance and we will give them that chance."

That would be followed by scrapping "the whole, fatally flawed internal revenue code" and replacing it "with a fairer, simpler, flatter system. We will end the IRS as we know it," Kemp said.

Repeating one of his most recurrent themes, Kemp laid claim to the mantle of growth and opportunity. But he seasoned his message with concern for the less fortunate.

"We cannot forget the single mother and her children. American society as a whole can never achieve the outer reaches of potential, so long as it tolerates the inner cities of despair," he said.

The speech obscured Kemp's sharp course change this week on immigration. "We are a nation of immigrants," he observed. Then quoting Father Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame University, Kemp said that "the reason we must close the back door of illegal immigration is so that we can keep open the front door of legal immigration."

Kemp had been an outspoken opponent of California's Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have eliminated most public services to illegal immigrants. At the time, he denounced the ballot measure as unconstitutional, contrary to conservative principles and likely to encourage discrimination against ethnic minorities.

In a interview with The Times this convention week, he switched course, saying that he now favors the controversial measure as well as Proposition 209 on the November ballot that would abolish government affirmative action programs.

The 61-year-old Kemp offered his own optimistic view of the future. "Americans do not accept limits, we transcend those limits. We do not settle for things as they are, we are intent on succeeding. I learned this lesson as a child growing up on the streets in Los Angeles."

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