MIAMI -- Charting a dramatic, go-for-broke climax to his battle for the presidency, Bob Dole declared yesterday that he would campaign around the clock in the last four days of the election campaign -- 96 consecutive hours -- and "give it all I've got."
"We're going to send a powerful signal all across America," Dole told a rally of several hundred students at the Florida International University.
"Ninety-six hours of nonstop campaigning, starting at noon [Friday] and ending on Election Day." he said. "I want to shake up this race in the last few days. The polls are starting to close and I want the public to focus on the alternative."
Dole also directed his most pointed appeal to date at supporters of Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, whom the Republican nominee fears is draining off votes that might otherwise go to him.
"He can't win," Dole said of Perot, for whom enthusiasm seems to be building.
Dole added, in a tacit admission that he can't overcome President Clinton's lead in the polls if Perot remains a factor: "I can beat one candidate. I can't beat two. So don't vote for Ross Perot."
Dole's support is inching up in some state polls, but he continues to trail Clinton in much of the country, including California, where the Republican has spent most of his time in recent weeks.
In recent months, Dole has executed a series of surprise maneuvers intended to attract attention to his uphill candidacy. Most stunning was his decision to quit the Senate and the job of majority leader.
This latest decision took even his top staff by surprise. Aides were scrambling yesterday to figure out how to make arrangements for a journey with no clear itinerary and that promises to be a grueling test of endurance for Dole and everyone around him.
"The last time I fought 'round the clock for my country was in 1945, in Italy," Dole told the students in Miami, referring to the battle where he was gravely wounded and lost the use of his right arm. "This is a fight again for America, to elect a president you can trust.
"I will give it all I've got," Dole promised.
Four days without sleeping in a bed would be a big sacrifice for a 73-year-old who strives to get eight hours of solid rest a night -- even on the campaign trail.
The marathon journey that Dole has set for himself would surpass in duration other recent 11th-hour blitzes. During the final days of the 1992 campaign, Clinton campaigned for 30 straight hours, visiting 10 cities. In 1988, Democratic challenger Michael S. Dukakis campaigned nonstop for more than two days.
And Dole's tentative itinerary is rigorous: bus and plane treks through at least 18 cities in 12 states, mostly in the Midwest and West. More stops may be added.
A preliminary schedule released last night showed overnight campaigning both today and tomorrow, including a 2: 30 a.m. stop in Las Vegas.
"We're going to roll the dice there one more time," Dole told nearly 1,000 supporters on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. "I will not rest my case until I have a chance to talk to every American voter who will listen."
States in which Dole plans to campaign include Ohio (where the 96-hour marathon is scheduled to begin), Michigan, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and his home state of Kansas.
Dole told reporters there would be periodic stops at hotels to shower, change clothes, "maybe take a little hour nap."
He said he was hoping an unorthodox approach to campaigning -- such as making appearances in the middle of the night -- would "spice up" the contest.
"I've been searching around for the last couple weeks for a way to sort of put a focus on this race," he said in an interview with television reporters. "The signal I want to send is that we're determined."
In another unexpected move earlier yesterday, Dole proposed changes to Medicare in a state with many elderly voters relying on the health care program.
Flanked by former President George Bush, Dole tackled head-on the issue that has been perhaps the most damaging for him and Republican congressional candidates this year.
"This is a problem that cries out for leadership," Dole said of Medicare's severe financial difficulties at a rally in Tampa, Fla. "How does the president respond? By playing political games with Medicare, trying to scare seniors to get their votes. How low will this White House go?"
Dole has complained bitterly about the millions of dollars in negative advertisements Democrats have used to attack an attempt by the Republican-led Congress to slow the growth of Medicare spending.
But yesterday he went further by announcing that he had asked Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York to help lead a bipartisan commission that would recommend ways to cut Medicare costs by June.
"To all the seniors out there," Dole said. "Keep in mind that I keep my word. I'm not Bill Clinton."
Bush's appearance yesterday seemed to work like a tonic on Dole. The former president was accompanied by country singer Lee Greenwood, whose song "God Bless the U.S.A." was the anthem of the Bush and Reagan campaigns.
Bush sang along with Greenwood yesterday, as Dole punched the air as though he was leading the band.
"I travel around the world, and I know we need somebody to restore the respect for America," said Bush, who lost to Clinton four years ago.
"We handed the Clinton administration an economy that was growing at 5.8 percent in the last quarter," said Bush, still clearly nursing his wounds. "They took all the credit for it."
Pub Date: 11/01/96