CENTREVILLE -- Sen. Bob Dole, widely viewed as the early front-runner in the race for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, flew by helicopter to the Eastern Shore yesterday for his first public appearance in Maryland since announcing his candidacy.
Appearing at the 1st Congressional District's Bull Roast, an annual GOP event here, the Senate majority leader sounded familiar conservative themes of reducing the federal government, balancing the budget and promoting traditional values.
That last issue in particular tickled the friendly crowd at the pTC Queen Anne's County 4-H Park as the Kansas senator reminded them of his demands that Hollywood limit sex and violence.
"A funny thing happened last week," said Mr. Dole. "Time Warner sold Interscope." Interscope Records produces "gangsta rap," which critics say degrades women and promotes crime.
The audience applauded Mr. Dole's remarks as well as his pledge to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which critics complain funds pornography masked as art. "I know the difference between Michelangelo and Mapplethorpe," Mr. Dole said, referring to the late artist Robert Mapplethorpe, whose shows are often protested by conservatives.
Other GOP candidates stake out similar terrain, which is why Mr. Dole stressed his leadership. "I think it's all about leadership," he said. "It's all about making tough decisions."
Rather than focusing on his GOP opponents, Mr. Dole set his sights on President Bill Clinton, whom he criticized for having a confused foreign policy.
"Of course, he had a couple of photo opportunities after somebody else put the agreement together, but he hasn't done much in foreign policy," Mr. Dole said, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian accords signed last week in Washington.
Mr. Dole's Maryland campaign headquarters is to open today in Severna Park.
By some measures, he is starting from behind in the state. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, often considered Mr. Dole's most dangerous primary opponent, has already made a number of campaign appearances in Maryland.
The Texan has made headway in other ways as well. Half of the General Assembly's 56 Republican members have pledged support to Mr. Gramm, and Ellen R. Sauerbrey, one of the state's best-known Republicans, is his campaign manager.
Still, it's not clear that Senator Gramm's early start in Maryland has garnered him much public fealty. Early polls reflect exactly what the national ones do -- that among declared Republican candidates, Bob Dole is far and away the front-runner. (The results change, dramatically, when the name of an undeclared candidate, Gen. Colin Powell, is added.)
Speaking to the press yesterday before circulating in the crowd of about 1,000, Mr. Dole acknowledged that Mr. Gramm had beat him in establishing a beachhead in Maryland, but he expected to catch up quickly.
Mr. Dole is not without formidable help in the state. Introducing him yesterday was his Maryland campaign manager, the First District's Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, who is lending his staff director, Tony Caligiuri, to the Dole campaign for the duration of the race.
Adding to Mr. Dole's star power yesterday was his wife, Elizabeth Dole, a popular figure in GOP circles. Noting that she is president of the Red Cross, the senator warned that whenever she saw a crowd that size, she started thinking about holding a blood drive.
"She's trying to find your vein," he joked, "and I'm trying to find your wallet."