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Kemp Finds Enthusiastic Audience

Politics: GOP vice presidential nominee focuses on issues that play well in Central Valley. He draws largest crowd of California trip.

September 30, 1996|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BAKERSFIELD — The flight from Los Angeles to this Central Valley city took just 45 minutes, but it landed GOP vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp in a different political universe, a place where voters have been drifting to the right for decades.

In two days of campaigning in and around Los Angeles, Kemp had emphasized his hope--seen by many as quixotic--that the Republican Party can draw votes from African Americans and other minority groups that have voted solidly Democratic for the last three decades.

In Bakersfield, Kemp focused on the Dole-Kemp ticket's tax reform proposals, played to local resentment about environmental regulations and preached "democratic capitalism," which allows, he said, "a worker working on a farm to someday own the farm."

The partisan rally of several hundred supporters waving flags and signs was the largest and most enthusiastic of Kemp's California trip.

Standing on a park bandstand, before crates of carrots, apples and other Central Valley produce, Kemp drew cheers and chants of "We back Jack!" by denouncing a notorious Central Valley case in which bamboo farmer Taunt Ming-Lin was charged by the federal government with bulldozing land that was home to kangaroo rats, an endangered species.

"There isn't anyone in America who doesn't want to save a kangaroo rat," Kemp said. "But you don't put a farmer in jail, you don't stop housing, you don't stop business. You work in harmony with our environment, and we must work in harmony and in cooperation . . . with business and farming and mining and the energy industry of America.

"It boils down to one big idea: We trust you, they trust government."

Tax accountant Jim Smith, 56, said he was particularly pleased with Kemp's pledge to reform the Tax Code. "I'd just as soon be out of a job. I think he'll probably have Kern County's vote."

Indeed, the Bakersfield trip was designed to reinforce what the party sees as its solid base of support, said California strategist Kenneth L. Khachigian. Khachigian said that Kern County should deliver polling numbers in the very high 50s for Bob Dole.

Kern County voters, overwhelmingly Democratic in the '50s, have been slipping into the Republican ranks ever since.

Khachigian described Bakersfield voters as farmers, ranchers, oil field workers--"working folks, traditional folk, who are resistant to government intrusion . . . . The Washington mentality doesn't sell there. People are individualistic. Entrepreneurial. They still believe in the frontier traditions."

Kemp's first stop, at a private fund-raiser at the home of carrot farmers Rod and Barbara Grimm, belied the cow-town image. The Grimms, said a neighbor, are California's "carrot kings." The pecan-tree shaded street on which they live abuts a country club; the vehicles out front were mainly Mercedes-Benzes, Cadillacs and upscale sport utility vehicles, with not a single pickup truck in sight.

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