ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp argued in a TV debate last night that lower taxes and less government regulation are the key to economic progress, but Vice President Al Gore responded that the Dole-Kemp plan would hurt the poor and explode the budget deficit.
In a very sober, gentlemanly debate that touched on a wide range of topics, Kemp and Gore offered sharply differing visions of America. The 90-minute forum struck few sparks and largely avoided personal attacks.
Kemp, an enthusiastic advocate for cutting taxes, spent much of his time on familiar economic ground. He returned repeatedly to Dole's 15 percent tax cut plan as the solution to the nation's problems, at one point turning a question about the Roberto Alomar spitting incident into an opportunity to plug the GOP plan for reducing capital gains taxes.
Gore defended his boss, President Clinton, against Kemp's criticism of the administration's record on domestic and foreign policy. The vice president underscored the economic gains made during the past four years, contending that he and Clinton had kept the promises they made in the 1992 campaign.
Kemp predicted that passage of the Republican plan would unleash a wave of new economic growth. Gore will "call that trickle down. I'll call that Niagara Falls," Kemp said.
"The problem with this version of Niagara Falls," responded Gore, "is that Senator Dole and Mr. Kemp would put the economy in a barrel and send it over the falls."
The exchange, perhaps the best of the night, drew laughter from the audience inside the hall on the St. Petersburg waterfront.
The Dole-Kemp proposal "is a risky, $550 billion tax scheme that actually raises taxes on 9 million of the hardest-pressed working families," Gore contended. "It would blow a hole in the deficit, cause much deeper cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education and environment and knock our economy off track, raising interest rates, mortgage rates and car payments."
In response, Kemp accused the Democrats of "demagoguery" for trying to frighten seniors and others into voting against the Republicans.
"Al, get real. Franklin Roosevelt said in 1932 that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," said Kemp. "The only thing [Clinton and Gore] have to offer is fear. Fear of the environment, fear of the climate, fear of Medicare, fear of Newt, fear of Republicans, fear of Bob and probably fear of cutting tax rates."
The vice presidential rivals, regarded by many as potential presidential foes in 2000 or 2004, appeared last night in the role of salesmen for their party's ticket.
Reciting familiar lines from their stump speeches, they broke no fresh ground. There were no apparent blunders and the overall tone of the event was cordial.
Instant polls by the TV networks showed results largely similar to the Sunday night debate.
Gore was the winner by a margin of 50 percent to 27 percent, according to an ABC survey. A CBS poll found that 48 percent of viewers thought Gore won, while 31 percent picked Kemp. More than 90 percent said the debate did not change their vote.
At the outset, both men swore off personal attacks but made it clear that they would swing away at each other on issues.
Kemp's first question from moderator Jim Lehrer was about Republican criticism of Dole's refusal in Sunday's debate to attack President Clinton's character.
Insisting that "it is beneath Bob Dole to go after anyone personally," Kemp said that he would not attack Gore personally.
"Bob Dole and myself do not see Bill Clinton and Al Gore as our enemy. We see them as our opponents," said Kemp.
Gore described Kemp as his friend, at one point praising him for his efforts to expand the Republican Party through his attempts to attract more support from members of minority groups.
But Gore also tried to drive a wedge between Dole and Kemp, pointing to issues on which the GOP ticket mates have differed, including taxes, affirmative action and Kemp's long-standing desire to return America to the gold standard.
Using Kemp's own words against him, Gore noted that Kemp once "said Bob Dole never met a tax that he didn't hike." Gore also cited Kemp's long-standing support for affirmative action and Kemp's charge that a California ballot initiative to end affirmative action was "unconscionable."
Kemp, who changed his stance on affirmative action after Dole picked him as his running mate, dodged a query about the change.
"My life has been dedicated to equality of opportunity and our democracy should provide that, not equality of reward," Kemp said. "Bob Dole has been talking about a new civil rights agenda, based upon expanding access to credit and capital, job opportunities, educational choice in our inner cities [and] ownership and entrepreneurship from public housing.
"That's what Abraham Lincoln believed. When they own something, they have a stake in the American dream. That is affirmative action in America."
Retorted Gore: "With all due respect, I do not believe Abraham Lincoln would have adopted Bob Dole's position to end all affirmative action. I hope that Mr. Kemp will try to persuade Senator Dole to adopt Mr. Kemp's position, instead of the other way around."
Besides affirmative action, last night's debate touched on several issues ignored in Sunday's presidential forum, including abortion. There was also more attention paid to foreign policy, with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haiti and Mexico among the targets.
In promoting the Dole tax-cut plan, Kemp portrayed it as the solution to problems of stagnant family incomes, joblessness and inner-city decay. Kemp described Clinton's empowerment zone program in Baltimore and other cities as ineffectual.
The cure for the problems of big cities, Kemp went on, is to eliminate the capital gains tax in inner cities "to put capital to work to make democratic capitalism and jobs available in our inner cities."
Both men agreed that America has a serious race problem but offered different remedies.
Kemp, who has campaigned aggressively in urban areas this fall, said that inner cities have "a socialist economy" that relies on public housing, food stamps and a welfare system that is "more like the third world" than the rest of America.
Gore said the problems of racial strife "must be addressed, but then went on to focus on what he called "the good news": a lower unemployment rate for African-Americans and the administration's empowerment zone program. He said that in his second term, Clinton would continue to put more police on city streets and would seek to create 1 million new jobs in inner cities.
The audience of 2,000 inside the Mahaffey Theater included members of the candidates' families, supporters, Florida politicians and other invited guests, including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf of Persian Gulf war fame, who lives in the Tampa Bay area.
Before the debate, about 125 supporters of Ross Perot gathered outside the Bayfront Center to protest the exclusion of Reform Party vice presidential nominee Pat Choate from the debate.
Perot has also been kept out of next Wednesday's final presidential debate in San Diego.
Pub Date: 10/10/96