WASHINGTON -- Moving to meet a self-imposed Saturday deadline, Bob Dole has narrowed his list of potential running mates to three, telling aides yesterday he is "very close" to a final decision.
The Dole campaign would not identify the three finalists, but said they were not necessarily all drawn from the list of seven hopefuls who have submitted in recent weeks to background checks.
Top prospects are believed to include Dole's former Senate Republican colleagues John McCain of Arizona and Connie Mack of Florida; former South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr.; and Michigan Gov. John Engler.
Among possible late additions are Jack F. Kemp, William J. Bennett and James A. Baker III, former Cabinet officers in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles and two other GOP governors -- Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin and Jim Edgar of Illinois -- were also on the list of seven asked to submit to background checks.
Choosing a running mate is the next critical step for Dole before he accepts his party's nomination next week. He plans to announce the choice Saturday in his hometown of Russell, Kan. The new team would then travel together to San Diego for the Republican National Convention.
Dole said several weeks ago that he hoped to pick a vice-presidential candidate who would be considered a "10." It's not clear now, however, that the selection will give Dole the burst of excitement he had hoped for.
The choice is important for Dole, 73, who, if elected, would be the oldest man ever sworn into the presidency for his first term. Sensitive to concerns about his age, he has said he would try to find someone younger, but experienced enough to be viewed as able to step into the top job.
But Dole's top choices -- former Gen. Colin L. Powell, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and, to a lesser extent, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge -- are unavailable to him. None of the remaining candidates is likely to give his campaign the big boost he needs.
Dole spent part of yesterday sifting through material submitted by the aspirants, telling aides he was "very close to a final decision."
All of the vice-presidential prospects still considered in the running are solid conservatives who oppose abortion. Each brings strengths and weaknesses.
McCain, 59, is a former Vietnam prisoner of war with whom Dole has developed a close personal relationship. A two-term senator known for his candor, he has been active on both national security issues as well as domestic matters such as campaign finance reform. McCain has the depth Dole said he wanted. A lively debater, McCain would also be able to play the traditional running mate role of attacking the Clinton record.
Working against McCain is his involvement in the Keating Five savings and loan scandal, from which he emerged with a mild rebuke, and the fact that Arizona is a safe Republican state.
Mack, 55, lacks McCain's fiery style but he brings a boyish charm and a history of work on tax issues similar to the program Dole is now promoting. He could help shore up the Republican base in the South, where Dole is a little wobbly at the moment.
But Mack, who served three terms in the House before his first election to the Senate in 1988, is an unknown in national politics.
Campbell, 56, is both a telegenic campaigner and good political tactician, who delivered for Dole a critical victory in the South Carolina primary that proved to be the turning point of his campaign. A former congressman, Campbell is sure to be dogged by charges of hard-ball politics, including allegations of anti-Semitism in his 1978 House campaign, charges he has persistently denied.
Engler, 47, is a popular governor in a battleground state who has experimented at the state level with many of the tax cuts and social reforms Dole would like to extend nationwide. He has strong backers in Washington, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Engler's drawbacks include charges that he avoided the draft during the Vietnam War by being slightly overweight and that he did not endorse Dole for the nomination until it was clear he would win the Michigan primary.
Kemp's name, among others, was circulating last night. A former New York congressman, he ran for the presidential nomination in 1988 and served as housing secretary under President George Bush.
Kemp has many strong allies in the party, particularly in the tax-cutting, supply-side movement that Dole just recently embraced with his economic plan.
But Kemp and Dole have an uncomfortable relationship. Kemp declined to endorse Dole during the primary battle, throwing his support instead to fellow supply-sider Steve Forbes.
Little about this political ritual has gone according to plan. For many months, Dole tried to convince Powell, the extremely popular former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to join him. But Powell finally convinced Dole that he didn't want to run.
Another prospect high on Dole's list was New Jersey's Whitman, who is among the party's top women leaders. But she said she didn't want to be considered. Many Dole advisers considered her too controversial because of what they call her aggressive support of abortion rights.
Dole began looking at Ridge, the Pennsylvania governor, last fall. A 50-year-old Vietnam combat veteran, Ridge developed a mentor-student relationship with Dole during his years in the House.
An abortion rights supporter, Ridge took himself out of the running last week.
Pub Date: 8/08/96