Dole targets California as Kemp joins ticket

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The Independent Online
Exactly four years ago, someone took a poll of Republican delegates in Houston at the end of that miserable, mean-spirited convention. Who, it was asked, would they like as their nominee in 1996? The answer from these party activists was not Dan Quayle, Phil Gramm, Pat Buchanan, nor a luminary of the Bush Cabinet like Jim Baker or Dick Cheney. The conclusive winner was Jack Kemp. Now, at the 11th hour, Bob Dole has given them at least half a cup of satisfaction; the Republicans' eternal enfant terrible will have his best chance yet of national elective office as Mr Dole's running mate in November. In the process, Mr Dole might have improved his own chances.

It is a moot point whether a vice-Presidential nominee attracts votes for his ticket. In the case of Al Gore four years ago, conceivably; but otherwise the evidence is thin. But if he can, then Mr Kemp is the man. Once Colin Powell had removed himself from consideration, he was the only contender with both the ability to energize the party base, and the cross- party appeal to lure the independents and "soft" Democrats any Republican needs to win the White House. That stature, moreover, makes him a credible president, should anything happen to 73-year old Mr Dole.

As a native Californian, Mr Kemp offers a glimmer of hope in a state that alone carries a fifth of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win in November, but where President Clinton currently leads by 25 per cent or more. Pro-life, but opposed to the sledgehammer of a constitutional amendment banning abortion completely, he finesses the Republicans' most ferocious internal argument. Above all, he is a man of warmth, humanity and compassion from a party currently not noted for these qualities.

Such assets, of course, carry a price. For Republicans, Mr Kemp is inspiring and infinitely forgiveable - but infinitely maddening. Just five months ago, at the very moment MrDole was sealing his primary victory, Mr Kemp took a deck seat on the Titanic by endorsing his friend, Steve Forbes. Before that, he had broken with party orthodoxy by coming out in support of affirmative action and dissenting with California's "proposition 187" on the 1994 mid-term ballot to deny all benefits for illegal immigrants.

Mr Kemp, the word went out, was a loose cannon, and not a "team player." Indeed, two years before that, when Los Angeles was in flames and the Republicans were in one of their periodic law-and-order frenzies over the riots, Housing Secretary Kemp, as he then was, insisted that the solution lay not in "more police, more guns, or more prisons", but in aid for the inner cities, notably tax-exempt enterprise zones to lure jobs and hope back to the inner cities.

Hope. That, distilled into a single word, is the political message of Jack Kemp.

At 61 he belongs to the generation too young to have fought in World War II like Bob Dole, too old to have been entangled in Vietnam like Bill Clinton. His formative years were the 1950s and early 1960s, the heyday of the American Dream, when he was building a dazzling career in the National Football League. In 1970, the star quarterback with the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills turned New York Congressman and passionate "supply- sider", who believed tax cuts were the key to economic growth and national renewal.

So successfully did he convince Ronald Reagan of his cause that in 1988 Mr Kemp was widely regarded as the great man's natural heir. But his Presidential campaign that year was a flop, and his relations with George Bush such that his appointment as Housing Secretary was bewildering. Thereafter, Mr Kemp's voice was little heard.

Now, Mr Dole has indirectly made amends. It is an intriguing ticket - not least for the personal chemistry between two men, who are in many respects polar opposites.

But in a seemingly pre-ordained political season, Mr Dole has at last achieved a surprise. President Clinton, apparently expecting the person- able but little-known Florida Senator, Connie Mack, is said to have been "shocked" by the choice of Mr Kemp. And, just possibly, a mite alarmed.