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Dole Pledges He'll Campaign Nonstop Until Election Day

Politics: GOP nominee says he'll seek votes nonstop in up to 15 states. But aides concede they can't close the gap in California, a key to victory.

November 01, 1996|MARIA L. La GANGA and RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

MIAMI — With just five days left in his uphill battle for the White House, Republican Bob Dole pledged Thursday to campaign nonstop for 96 hours in up to 15 states--on the ground, in the air, everywhere but overnight in hotel rooms--starting this morning until "high noon" on election day.

But even as he did so, senior campaign aides conceded what they have long resisted saying--that they have been unable to close the gap in California, the nation's largest prize and one crucial to any Dole victory scenario.

President Clinton has enjoyed a large lead in California, and that is "not moving," said one senior Dole aide. Without California, Dole advisors concede, they have no clear idea how their candidate might amass the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

By contrast, Dole is suddenly showing some movement in more conservative, Republican-leaning states, especially in the South and mountain West. Public surveys, private Republican polls and Democratic surveys as well show Dole moving back ahead of Clinton in some states the Republicans have counted on--not enough for a victory, but perhaps enough to stave off a lopsided defeat Tuesday.

But as Dole's frenetic schedule shows, he seems determined, whatever the polls indicate, to end the campaign with flair.

"The last time I fought around the clock for my country was in Italy in 1945," Dole said, likening his final electoral effort to the battles he fought in World War II. "This is a fight again for America--to elect a president we can trust and an economy that gives us hope. I will give it all I've got."

In its first 43.5 hours, the self-proclaimed "Dole Non-Stop Victory Tour" is scheduled to visit 19 cities in 12 states. Highlights of the comfortless crusade include a 1 a.m. swing through sleeping Detroit on Saturday, followed by a 4:30 a.m. event in the usually deserted darkness of Newark, N.J.

Saturday ends--or Sunday begins, depending on your perspective--with a 2:30 a.m. visit to Las Vegas, the most logical venue for a late-night jaunt.

The fact that Dole is planning to return to New Jersey--a state his campaign largely abandoned just two weeks ago in order to put together the money for its final advertising blitz in California--helps indicate the degree to which he and his aides are groping for scenarios to reach a majority.

In California, Dole's chief strategist for the state, Kenneth L. Khachigian, responded angrily to his colleagues' speculation about the campaign's chances. "I just refuse to concede the point, or the loss. In the meantime, my colleagues should not be talking about the gap," he said. "I don't respect colleagues like that."

But even private Republican polls show Clinton retaining probably insurmountable advantages both in California and in New Jersey. Dole continues to trail in private GOP polls in Indiana and New Hampshire as well, raising the risk that he will be swept in all the states north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi.

The results from the South and parts of the West show Dole moving back ahead of Clinton in Virginia, the Carolinas, Texas and Alabama--all Southern GOP base states where Dole has, to varying degrees, recently appeared threatened.

In Georgia, even private Democratic surveys show Dole steadily reducing Clinton's lead, now down to around 5 percentage points; likewise, Dole seems to be narrowing Clinton's leads in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada and Florida.

In Ohio, the most Republican of the large Midwestern battlegrounds, Dole has cut Clinton's lead to about 8 points in public polling, and even less in his own surveys.

Unfortunately for Dole, even if he could win all those states plus the others in which he established a lead earlier, his total would only barely reach 220 electoral votes--far short of his goal.

Campaigning here and earlier in Tampa, Fla., with former President Bush at his side and country and western star Lee Greenwood singing backup, Dole criticized Clinton for "playing politics with Medicare."

He announced that if he is elected president in "five big days," he would appoint Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, and Sen. Connie Mack, a Republican from Florida, to head up a bipartisan commission to save the Medicare program. Both men, he said, have agreed to serve.

Clinton's record on seniors, Dole said, is abysmal: "He ignores their real problems. He raises their taxes. And then he plays on their fears with millions and millions of dollars in negative, misleading advertising.

"Every day, we have another reason to wonder: How low will this White House go? How low will this White House go?" he asked. "Is there any trust it won't violate?"

Bush joined Dole for a rare campaign appearance and a somewhat perfunctory endorsement, taking the opportunity to defend his own record in the Oval Office, while assailing Clinton for recent government reports that show slowing growth in the economy.

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