WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Jack F. Kemp, the colorful quarterback-turned-politician and tax-cut guru, has scrambled at the last-minute into the lineup of Bob Dole's prospective running mates, grabbing a spot among the top three contenders.
Attention focused on the one-time congressman and housing secretary after he met privately Wednesday night with the soon-to-be Republican nominee at Dole's Watergate condo.
No details of the session were available, but campaign aides say Kemp, 61, is now among the top three of six prospective ticket mates Dole is weighing as he approaches a self-imposed Saturday deadline for making the announcement.
Others in the top tier are Florida Sen. Connie Mack and Michigan Gov. John Engler, according to Republican Party sources. Still said to be in play but less likely to get the nod are Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Don Nickles of Oklahoma, and former South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr.
Once the star of the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, Kemp stands out as potentially the boldest choice.
A former congressman from Buffalo who made his own bid for the GOP presidential nomination against Dole and George Bush in 1988, Kemp is well known in the party as a passionate advocate for economic programs to help people help themselves.
He was a primary author of the 1981 "supply-side" tax cuts embraced by President Ronald Reagan. And he used a stint as housing secretary under President George Bush to promote home ownership instead of housing projects. Kemp is popular with both GOP conservatives who support his fiscal views and Republican moderates who admire his ability to reach out to groups such as the urban poor.
"When you're 20 points behind, you need a 'Wow,' " said Thomas A. Scully, a former Bush administration official. "Kemp is a 'Wow!' "
Kemp is a "dynamic campaigner, has a built-in national base" and, as an early advocate of the type of pro-growth economic plan Dole unveiled this week, is "the best salesman around that there is" for those proposals, said a Dole campaign aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Even so, some Dole backers are skeptical of Kemp because they don't believe either man would be comfortable with the relationship. Dole puts a high premium on loyalty and was furious with Kemp for endorsing rival Steve Forbes in this year's primary campaign.
Kemp is an independent operator who pushed his own agenda within the Bush Cabinet, at times upstaging the president.
Of the other two top contenders, only Mack offers Dole a real comfort factor. The 55-year-old two-term senator is easygoing and low key. He would be seen as a solid and safe choice who could reinforce Dole's drive for Florida's critical 25 electoral votes.
Engler, 47, a popular and outspoken governor who served for many years in the Michigan legislature, is also his own man. He, too, is a vigorous advocate of tax cuts, having put them into effect in his own state. And Michigan is a battleground that may hold the key to victory in a close election.
VTC All six still in contention have been asked by the Dole campaign for their schedules for the next few days. Kemp has also been asked to supply the personal and political background information sought earlier from the others.
As a political veteran who has gone through numerous FBI checks, Kemp's history is believed by Dole aides to be well known.
When he began his search, Dole said he hoped to find a running mate with whom he would be personally compatible. He is especially close to McCain and Nickles; but neither of them is expected to bring much in terms of electoral votes nor do they possess a national base, which Kemp is believed to have.
Pub Date: 8/09/96