SAN DIEGO -- Bob Dole and Jack Kemp arrived to an ear-splitting, flag-waving welcome yesterday in the city where they will claim the Republican presidential and vice-presidential nominations this week.
Sounding confident, despite polls that show him trailing President Clinton by double digits, a pumped-up Dole tried to rally his party for the uphill campaign ahead. "Everything before has been a warm-up, a trial heat," the 73-year-old former senator told thousands of cheering Republicans in a waterside park outside the hall where the GOP National Convention begins today. "Here in San Diego, the real race begins."
Tonight's opening session features a reminder of what might have been: an address by Colin L. Powell, the wildly popular retired general who was Dole's favorite to become his running mate. But Powell made it clear that he was not interested, opting instead for a limited role.
The addition of tax-cut crusader Kemp to the ticket, announced Saturday, completed Dole's conversion to the supply-side economic philosophy embraced by Ronald Reagan and long ridiculed by Dole. Yesterday, Dole vowed to "win the Reagan revolution once and for all."
Republicans are counting on a unified convention to successfully launch their drive to maintain control of Congress and regain the White House in the Nov. 5 election.
Last night, former Dole rival Patrick J. Buchanan edged closer to an endorsement, telling supporters that "it is time for a party truce in the name of a Republican victory."
In a picture-perfect prelude to this week's Republican celebration, daytime fireworks boomed above a replica of the White House. Parachutists and vintage aircraft zoomed overhead as the GOP ticket arrived at the convention site aboard a double-decked tour boat. Dole seemed both delighted and amazed.
"The era of Bill Clinton's about over. And that's going to happen sooner than you think," said the former Kansas senator.
By announcing his choice of a running mate in advance, Dole drained the four-day convention of any real suspense. But adding Kemp to the ticket clearly has energized many of the nearly 4,000 delegates and alternates.
A California native who once played pro quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, Kemp used his arrival remarks to answer those who think he could have trouble adjusting to a backup role in the campaign.
"Let me just tell you here today, unambiguously, Bob," Kemp said, as Dole stood nearby on the sun-drenched stage, "you're the quarterback, and I'm your blocker. And we're going all the way."
Both men tried to refute criticism of the economic plan that now forms the heart of the Dole-Kemp message: a pledge to cut taxes by more than $500 billion over the next six years and still balance the budget by 2002. The plan has been met with skepticism from economists who say that spending would have to be cut far more than is politically feasible to pay for such a large tax cut.
"It can be done, and, as president, I'm going to do it," Dole said. "I give you my word. I promise you that will happen."
Dole took several swipes at Clinton, who has criticized the Republican tax-cut proposal, saying he is "unalterably opposed" any plan that would increase the federal budget deficit.
"Frankly, I didn't think there was such a thing as a Clinton position that couldn't be altered," Dole said. "So this has to be a first."
Dole also tossed a barb at Ross Perot, who is likely to become the third man in the presidential race, as he was in 1992. Perot's Reform Party opened its two-part convention last night in Long Beach, Calif., with the Texas billionaire expected to be chosen as the nominee next weekend in Pennsylvania.
Republican strategists say that Perot, who received 19 percent of the vote last time and is receiving somewhat less support now in opinion polls, would hurt Dole more than he would Clinton.
'The Reform Party'
"We are the Reform Party, Mr. Perot and all the others looking for a reform party," Dole proclaimed. "The Republican Party is the Reform Party."
About the only blemish marring the scene for the GOP was continued grumbling from moderates, including big-state governors who favor abortion rights.
Govs. Pete Wilson of California and William F. Weld of Massachusetts declined offers to speak at the convention because they would not agree to restrictions imposed by convention planners. Aides to both men said they were being punished for attempting to moderate the party's anti-abortion platform plank.
Appearance of union
The tightly scripted convention program is designed to prevent a repeat of the 1992 GOP convention in Houston, which was criticized for generating a politically damaging image of Republicans as intolerant and extremist.
None of the party's defeated presidential candidates will be allowed to address this week's convention in person. Convention planners insist that was the only reason Wilson was not invited to speak; the host governor greeted Dole at dockside yesterday, however, and is expected to make brief welcoming remarks to the delegates today.
Buchanan, the only former rival who has yet to endorse Dole, held a rally for his supporters last night in the San Diego suburb of Escondido. Ending what he described as his "miracle campaign," he declared victory in the battle to keep the party staunchly anti-abortion.
"Friends, there is so much of ours in that platform, that if [GOP Chairman] Haley Barbour starts selling it, we are going to demand royalties," he told a crowd of 900. "Before our eyes, this party is becoming a Buchanan Party."
Formal approval of the platform is among the first orders of business after the convention is called to order this morning. A strictly conservative document, the platform would outlaw all abortions, a plank more hard-line than Dole's own view, which would allow exceptions in cases of rape and incest and to save the life of the mother.
The platform contains a number of controversial passages on immigration, including one to eliminate the constitutional provision guaranteeing U.S. citizenship to all people born in the United States.
Dole said over the weekend that he had not read the platform.
"I'm not bound by the platform," he told Copley News Service. "I probably agree with most everything in it, but I haven't read it."
In recent campaigns, successful conventions have been worth an average of 7 percentage points in the polls to the nominee.
The latest pre-convention polls show Dole trailing Clinton by up to 20 points in a two-way race. A Gallup-CNN-USA Today survey, completed yesterday, showed Clinton leading Dole, 50 percent to 38 percent, with Perot at 6 percent.
"It's still very, very fluid," House Speaker Newt Gingrich told reporters, citing a new Washington Post poll that put Clinton's lead at 10 percentage points.
Pub Date: 8/12/96