SAN DIEGO -- On a night when his life story was told to the nation, former Sen. Bob Dole reached the high point of a long political career when he formally became the 1996 Republican nominee for president.
The nomination of the 73-year-old Dole, who first ran on a national ticket 20 years ago and failed twice as a presidential candidate during the 1980s, was made unanimous.
No other candidate's name was placed in nomination. Delegates supporting defeated GOP contenders were pressured to switch to Dole, in a nod to party unity.
Dole's home state of Kansas put him over the top, shortly after midnight Eastern time. In all, Dole received 1,928 delegate votes, more than the necessary 996.
Patrick J. Buchanan was a distant second with 43. Texas Sen. Phil Gramm got two, former Maryland Senate candidate Alan L. Keyes one, and retired federal Judge Robert H. Bork one. Fifteen delegates abstained.
After nominating Dole, the 1,990 delegates also rubber-stamped his choice of Jack Kemp as the party's vice presidential nominee.
The roll call of the states was preceded by a lengthy presentation about Dole's life, including a very personal testimony from his only child, Robin, the 41-year-old daughter from his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1972.
"I am the imperfect child of a great man," she said. "I want with all my heart for him to be president. But that will not elevate him in my eyes. He could stand no taller than he does now."
Dole's wife Elizabeth, in the featured presentation of the evening, roamed the convention floor to introduce people who ++ had played important roles in her husband's life.
Mrs. Dole began by addressing her absent husband: "Bob Dole, if you are watching, let me just warn you that I'm going to be saying some things that you in your modesty would never say about yourself."
A moment later, Dole's image flashed onto giant video screens ** behind the podium -- a technique used at an earlier GOP convention when Ronald Reagan looked down, via TV, on his wife Nancy. Mrs. Dole reacted with delight to what she called the "pleasant surprise."
Afterward, Dole, who watched with Kemp and others from his room at the Hyatt Regency hotel, praised his wife's remarks. "I think I'll let her give mine tomorrow night," he said.
Public polling by two television networks and private surveys by the Republican and Democratic parties indicate Dole has gained about 3 percentage points on President Clinton since he selected Kemp as a running mate last week.
Clinton leads Dole by a 10-point margin, 47-37 percent, with Ross Perot third at 12 percent, according to an ABC News survey conducted Monday and Tuesday.
In a speech placing Dole's name in nomination, Arizona Sen. John McCain extolled him as "a quiet hero," who "came home a little bit broken by the experience" of being gravely wounded in World War II.
"In his plain-spoken, dignified way, Bob Dole has carried our deepest cares and held our brightest hopes," McCain said. "And that, my friends, is why the American people will elect this decent, honorable man to lead this great country to the next American century."
McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war who backed Sen. Phil Gramm against Dole in the GOP primaries, expressed gratitude to Dole, who had worn a POW bracelet bearing McCain's name during the early 1970s.
"He never imposed on me an obligation to him for the support he gave me at a time when I needed it most," said McCain, who learned only last winter that Dole had worn the bracelet.
The speech touched off a seven-minute floor celebration, as the house band played "Shout," the 1960s soul tune made famous by the Isley Brothers, and delegates chanted "Dole-Kemp."
The nomination was seconded by two Texas politicians, Wendy Lee Gramm, the wife of Sen. Gramm, and Rep. Henry Bonilla, and by two recent high school graduates from Dole's Kansas home town, who appeared via a live TV link from the grounds of the courthouse where Dole worked as county attorney during the 1950s.
Kemp was nominated by New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who hailed him as "a messenger of optimism."
Day Three of the convention also featured fresh attacks from the podium on Clinton's character and policies.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle, poking fun at a line directed at him during the 1988 campaign, drew loud cheers by declaring: "I know Bob Dole. Bob Dole is a friend of mine, and Bill Clinton, you're no Bob Dole."
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III derided Clinton's foreign policy as "Gullible's travels." In his most partisan speech since leaving government, Baker said, "Bill Clinton has done for foreign policy what Hillary did for health care."
Dole campaign research has found that many Americans still know little about his wounding in Italy in 1945, which left him with a crippled right arm. Yesterday, the campaign returned to the theme repeatedly.
In the morning, Dole laid a red and white floral wreath at the San Diego Veterans Memorial and said military service made him a "better American" than someone who did not serve, drawing an obvious contrast with Clinton.
"There is something about serving your country that I think makes us better Americans if that's possible," Dole told a gathering of fellow veterans on the 51st anniversary of V-J Day.
"We understand, we appreciate what liberty and freedom is all about," he said to the group gathered outside the Naval Hospital on a hillside in Balboa Park.
Dole left it to Jay Vargas, secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, to make the point more sharply.
"When duty called, he didn't hesitate," Vargas said of Dole. "He marched forward unlike others who did not." Clinton opposed the Vietnam War, which was under way when he was draft age, and took steps to avoid being called to active duty.
Dole has gone to great lengths over the years to make his war injuries as inconspicuous as possible. He normally holds his nearly useless right arm close to his body and clutches a pen in his hand, to keep his fingers from splaying.
The limitation was most noticeable yesterday when he couldn't put his right hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, managing to raise it only about waist-high.
In his effort to introduce himself, Dole is making increasing reference to his combat experience.
"That's really what America's all about, someone who's willing to risk their lives or give their lives or come back not a whole person anymore because they cared so much for their fellow man, they were willing to lay down their life for their fellow man," he told the veterans.
When speaking to veterans, Dole is generally playing to a very sympathetic crowd.
"This is the most exciting day in my life," Lita Bowman of Pacific Beach, who served with the Women's Army Corps during World War II, said after Dole gave her his autograph. "I wanted to meet the real Dole. I'm very impressed."
Dole appeared before a much larger crowd of veterans Tuesday night after the convention session, when he spoke to several thousand people at a salute to the GOP candidate organized by the National Vietnam Veterans Coalition.
The stage at the San Diego Civic Center was decorated with four poster-sized World War II pictures of Dole: shirtless behind a howitzer, in his helmet, lying in his hospital bed and in a formal portrait of his 10th Mountain Division Army uniform.
Dole told reporters that he was "not certain there's any such thing as a veteran's vote, but I'm willing to find out."
Pub Date: 8/15/96