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ELECTIONS '96

A Subject Kemp Isn't Talking About: 2000

Politics: His only stated plan is a return to the speaking circuit. His presidential prospects are now clouded after criticism of his stump performance.

November 08, 1996|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Apparently, Jack Kemp still has a lot to say.

He was back at the podium Thursday night, talking the same talk, almost oblivious to the fact the election had ended and he lost.

The loquacious Kemp delivered nearly 150 speeches in the three months since GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole tapped him as his running mate. Without so much as a day off, he traveled to Denison University in Ohio on Thursday to repeat the same arguments for reduced taxes and racial reconciliation that were his mainstay on the stump. This time, he was a speaker for hire.

In his concession speech Tuesday night, Kemp vowed to remain active in pushing the issues he cares about. Whether he might pursue the White House himself four years from now is anybody's guess.

"I don't think he has the stomach for raising the kind of money he would need," said one senior campaign aide. "There are at least five guys already laying the groundwork for 2000. My gut says Kemp will not be one of them."

And it remains questionable whether he could tap into strong support should he decide to launch a presidential bid. When Dole surprised political observers by selecting Kemp for the No. 2 spot on his ticket, the move was widely seen as an opportunity for the former New York congressman to secure his appeal to core GOP voters. But it is unclear whether he accomplished that task, given the mixed reviews over his campaign performance.

Many GOP leaders believe Kemp did not hold his own in his nationally televised debate last month with Vice President Al Gore. Not only did Kemp strike some as unprepared, he was criticized for holding his punches in addressing President Clinton's character.

On the stump, meanwhile, Kemp earned points for his energy and unflagging loyalty to the Dole cause, dispelling skepticism that he would match up well with the former Kansas senator. Still, Kemp continued to lapse into academic arcana in his speeches as he failed to broaden his repertoire.

Kemp's speeches were full of verve but they were the same, whether he was in Butte, Mont., Azusa, Calif., or Latrobe, Pa.

"Jack had an opportunity here to end his reputation as a Johnny one-note," said one Dole-Kemp strategist. "I think he squandered that opportunity."

Wayne Berman, Kemp's campaign manager, said he does not think Kemp himself knows exactly what lies ahead of him.

"He's going to keep pushing the Republican Party toward the party of Lincoln and away from the kind of exclusionist extremism that it sometimes falls into," Berman said. "He has to decide whether he wants to to do it in the inside or from the outside."

Close friends said Kemp took Tuesday's election loss with his chin up. "Football players learn to lose," said John Mackey, a Hall of Fame professional football player who Kemp has called his best friend. "I played in Super Bowl III and we lost. We never would have won Super Bowl V if we had given up. Jack is the same way."

Aboard his campaign plane on Wednesday, he would only say: "I would have loved to have won. We could have done something."

Then he showed that some of the discipline he displayed during the campaign may have been short-lived.

As reporters' eyes glazed over, he launched into a six-minute lecture on the need for a return to the gold standard, ripping up a dollar bill to make his point.

The vice presidential nomination marked a new beginning for Kemp, a chance to emerge from political hibernation and jump start a career that had stalled due to his free-thinking ways.

It was with some reluctance that he emerged from the comforts of oblivion, where he had built a nest egg of nearly $6 million from speaking fees and investments.

"It's no secret that we had some trepidation about running," Kemp said in an interview in the campaign's waning days, with his wife, Joanne, at his side.

"I did not know when I started what it would be like to have to have every word dissected, discussed and debated or what it would be like to have to speak and think in terms of the top of the ticket. . . . I was for the last eight years pretty much wildcatting--giving lectures, preaching sermons on America."

Before his nomination, Kemp earned as much as $30,000 a talk. He says he'll keep speaking--probably at even heftier rates--but needs more time before he engages in any Monday morning quarterbacking on the election just past or decides just what else he will do next.

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