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Dole Pays Christian Coalition a Surprise Visit

Politics: In bid to boost his campaign, he joins running mate Jack Kemp at convention. Meanwhile, President Clinton surveys hurricane damage in N.C.

September 15, 1996|GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Seeking to lift his flagging campaign with an appeal to the GOP's base, presidential nominee Bob Dole made an unscheduled stop at the Christian Coalition's annual convention Saturday, urging conservative voters to lobby Congress to override President Clinton's veto of a controversial antiabortion measure.

Dole, along with running mate Jack Kemp, was warmly received by the group. But coalition founder Pat Robertson proclaimed before their arrival that it will take "a miracle from almighty God" for the GOP candidate, trailing by more than 20 percentage points in some polls, to win the White House.

Such a miracle can happen, Robertson quickly added, but the Republican ticket must refocus on moral issues, away from its emphasis on economics and tax cuts.

"It's not the economy, stupid; it's morality, stupid, and that's where the issue's going to be decided in this campaign," he said.

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Kemp indirectly acknowledged the tension between such strict conservative doctrine and wider appeals to centrist voters, telling the group: "The challenge for us conservatives is that to be true to our beliefs, we must become politically more inclusive without sacrificing principle."

Earlier in the day, Dole used the GOP radio address to again hammer at Clinton on the issue of drug abuse and to preview an anti-drug, anti-crime package that he is scheduled to unveil Monday at a meeting with GOP governors.

Dole said his proposals will include calls for tougher sentences for violent juvenile offenders, longer prison terms, requirements that prisoners work "to offset the costs of incarceration and pay compensation" to crime victims, and the establishment of a national "instant-check" system to keep criminals from buying firearms.

Dole's campaign, which has frequently criticized Clinton's record on drugs, also released a new television commercial on the issue.

"Under Clinton, cocaine and heroin use among teenagers has doubled. Why? Because Bill Clinton isn't protecting our children from drugs," the announcer states in the commercial, which portrays teens using drugs.

Contrary to reports that the GOP camp is cutting back its advertising in vote-rich California, where polls have shown Dole far behind Clinton, a campaign spokesman said the new commercial would be seen by the "average" California voter at least eight times this week.

The campaign also is considering airing an ad that refers to Clinton's own comments about trying marijuana, the spokesman said.

Clinton, meanwhile, spent Saturday in North Carolina--a state considered still up for grabs in the presidential contest--to survey damage from Hurricane Fran.

Dressed in shirt sleeves and cowboy boots and drinking a ginger ale, Clinton listened to tales of heroic citizens in Raleigh and met a 6-year-old girl who led her family to safety after a tree fell on their house.

The president also announced that the government would provide $13 million in disaster-relief money to help offset the estimated $1 billion in storm damage and assist 750 workers who lost their jobs to the destruction.

"I frankly was amazed when we flew over the damaged area and [saw] how much had been done to at least prepare the way to rebuild. And I take my hat off to you. And we will do whatever we can to help," Clinton said during a round-table discussion.

The Clinton campaign responded to Dole's anti-drug, anti-crime proposals with a statement: "It would have been more helpful if Bob Dole had decided to get tough on crime when he was in the Senate and in a position to do something about it."

The statement noted that Dole opposed Clinton's anti-crime legislation, which called for 100,000 new police officers, and that the former Senate majority leader filibustered against the gun-control law known as the Brady Act.

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The Democratic campaign also criticized Dole's last-minute decision to address the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" conference here. "In a Dole administration, when Pat Robertson says, 'Jump,' President Dole will say, 'How high?' " said Joe Lockhart, a Democratic campaign spokesman. Initially, only Kemp was scheduled to address the group, but Dole decided Friday to attend the meeting to introduce his running mate.

Dole's former GOP rival, Patrick J. Buchanan, also took a shot at Republican campaign strategy that gives an economic plan priority over moral issues.

"We are not just consumers. Politics is not just about budgets and deficits and taxes. It's about a lot more than that. . . . We are children of God," Buchanan told the group, which gave him a cheering welcome as the theme from the movie "Rocky" played in the background.

Dole acknowledged the importance of the Christian conservatives to his chances in November. "We understand your commitment, we understand your strength, we understand your potential, and I would ask you for your full and complete support every day--every day between now and Nov. 5, 1996," he said.

He also reaffirmed his opposition to Clinton's veto of a bill that would have outlawed a late-term abortion procedure critics call "partial-birth" abortions. "If you continue to work, you may be able to get enough senators so that we can override this terrible veto," Dole said. House Republicans plan an override vote this week.

Coalition member Scott Carter, 32, of Wilmington, Del., said Dole needed to attend the group's convention in order to energize supporters who are well aware of polls showing him trailing Clinton by double-digit margins.

"I think Dole had to show up. I think if Dole had not shown up . . . it would have been difficult for people here at this conference to mobilize," he said.

Times staff writer Faye Fiore contributed to this story.

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