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Dole Invokes 'L Word' Against Clinton

Politics: GOP nominee accuses rival of 'big government' approach and predicts reprise of health care plan. President rejects liberal label.


SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Bob Dole, accused by President Clinton of promoting a nostalgic, backward-looking agenda, on Monday unapologetically urged voters to take a good hard look back--at what he denounced as his foe's reliance on a "big government" approach to addressing the nation's problems.

Speaking to about 400 supporters inside a cavernous Interstate Van Lines warehouse here, the Republican presidential nominee focused for the third straight day on the controversial health care reform initiative that the President and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed three years ago.

He warned that Clinton--if given a second term--would again seek to restructure the U.S. health care system. And Dole continued to point to the failed health care proposal as an example of the "liberal" approach Clinton could pursue during another term.

Clinton, who generally has steered clear of directly responding to Dole, rejected the description of him as a liberal when asked about it at a White House ceremony. "The record doesn't support the charge," Clinton said.

For evidence, Clinton cited his four-year record of reducing the deficit and signing bills for welfare reform, banning assault weapons and authorizing 100,000 additional police officers.

"It is true that [Dole] and I had differences over the budget last year and we will again in this campaign. And we have different tax-cut plans. But I don't think that qualifies me as a closet liberal," Clinton said.

As Dole hammered away at Clinton's record during his rally, he interspersed his assault with a string of quips that left his partisan audience rocking.

Standing before a large chart labeled "Bill Clinton's Liberal, Big Government Healthcare Plan," Dole alleged that the president has not abandoned his goal of enacting comprehensive health care reform, saying: "He still has it. He hasn't forgotten."

Dole added: "President Clinton came to town a liberal. He's still a liberal. The only thing that stopped him in his tracks was that you elected a Republican Congress in 1994."

For the second day in a row, Dole's rally was cut short by an unexpected interruption. On Monday, a heckler prompted Dole to abruptly end his closing remarks by awkwardly exhorting his listeners: "Don't use cocaine! Don't use cocaine!" The heckler had shouted a question at Dole that seemed to somehow link cocaine to former President George Bush.

On Sunday in Northern Illinois, Dole aborted his closing remarks at a rally because of a premature release of thousands of balloons. Still, the glitches have not fazed Dole, at least outwardly, judging by his trademark sense of humor.

Taking note of the setting provided Monday by the moving company, Dole told the firm's officials: "I've been looking at your prices. . . . It's going to be a short move . . . about four miles," referring to the distance from his Watergate apartment to the White House.

Dole also referred humorously to his fall from a stage in Chico, Calif., last week, joking that the first call he received afterward was from a trial lawyer.

Throughout this year's campaign, Dole has harshly criticized the nation's trial lawyers, who regularly donate huge sums to Democratic candidates, including the Clinton campaign.

At another point, noting that both he and his wife are attorneys, Dole said: "We're the only two lawyers in town that trust each other."

Dole's running mate, Jack Kemp, campaigned Monday in Cleveland, where he used an appearance before doctors and other health care professionals to urge the Senate to join the House in overriding Clinton's veto of a bill to ban a late-term abortion procedure.

Kemp said so-called partial-birth abortions "are antithetical and diametrically opposed to every single procedure that is possible to save a human life."

The House voted, 285 to 137, last week to override Clinton's veto of the bill; the Senate is expected to take up the issue later this week.

Times staff writer Eleanor Randolph contributed to this story from Cleveland.

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