Dole pulls tax cuts out of the hat for California

Republicans are hoping to win the West coast, but abortion divides them, reports Tim Cornwell in San Diego

Roger Hedgecock seemed to be in shock. The former Republican mayor turned talk-show host was broadcasting live from outside the hall where the Republicans spent much of last week debating their party's stand on abortion. Mr Hedgecock had invited Jeff White, an anti-abortion crusader with Operation Rescue, to join him, but things had not turned out quite the way he planned.

Mr Hedgecock's conservative credentials are impeccable. For two days last week he stood in for Rush Limbaugh, the giant of right-wing talk radio. But during this broadcast his guest had produced two, four-feet wide pictures of an 21-week aborted foetus, allegedly taken from an abortion clinic's trash. "Good grief," said Mr Hedgecock. "I don't need to be shown a lot of gore to be convinced."

The party truly begins for California's Republicans today, as a train carrying the State's delegation begins winding its way down the coast to San Diego. For the convention crowd, the Republicans' bash at Planet Hollywood restaurant tonight has been declared the place to be seen.

Yet there was evidence of discomfort in this city known for its steely Republicanism, with both abortion as an issue and Bob Dole as a candidate. "California's delegation by two-to-one is pro-choice," said Steve Cushman, a long time Republican and chairman of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce.

Ronald Reagan called San Diego his "lucky city", the place where he chose to end his campaigns. Last week, as Bob Dole reached for the great communicator's mantle with his promise of sweeping tax-cuts, Republicans in Reagan country were thrilled by the old anti-tax message. But they were looking askance at the messenger.

Eighty miles north in Orange County, the conservative bastion of California, the party-line was being hung out: that though Dole would lose heavily in the State today, the campaign has yet to start, and he will get a huge injection of campaign funds when he is officially declared candidate. "The enthusiasm is growing," insisted Dale Dykema, president of the Lincoln Club, whose 350 members must have donated at least $1,500 each to the Republican Party. "If we can swing California, Bob Dole is president."

The Lincoln Club is spending $50,000 to get the vote in Orange County, which traditionally has helped to swing the State's vote. It is hoping to use support for the California Civil-Rights Initiative - a ballot proposal that opposes affirmative action - to draw conservatives to the booths on polling day.

San Diego's conservatism is rooted in defence with naval and air bases making military the city's second largest industry. But Republicans are still smarting from 1992, when the county went for Bill Clinton with the vote split by a 25 per cent vote for Ross Perot.

The Republicans are now swamping the hotels at the height of San Diego's tourist season. Mr Dole's promise of 15 per cent income tax-cuts will go down well in a city where earnings are well above the national average, and whose economic engine is entre- preneurial high-tech industry, according to long-time Republican consultant Jack Orr. Clinton's tax increases aimed at the wealthy, he said, had added $10,000 to his own tax bill.

Dole's 35-year voting record, however, seems never to have reflected anything like the economic programme he now claims to embrace, according to Tom Stickel, who was the State's campaign chairman four years ago for George Bush. Mr Stickel claims that "the greatest enthusiasm" he has been able to sense in San Diego this week has been over rumours that former housing secretary and neo-liberal darling, Jack Kemp, would be Mr Dole's vice-presidential running mate. "That is more curious to me than, gee, when is Dole going to get here?"

Tom Blair, a long-time Republican and editor of the Union Tribune, the San Diego magazine, said: "I don't know of any Republicans who have any sense of confidence in Dole's ultimate victory." The general mood, he said was more one of quiet resignation.

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