Dole-Kemp. Republicans are calling it the “dream team” as they descend upon this city in anticipation of their national convention.
Party members arriving Friday for a weekend of socializing before next week’s opening session were buzzing in hotel lobbies and reception areas over Bob Dole’s choice of Jack Kemp as his vice presidential choice.
There was talk of little else.
Leaders scurried to press conferences, the fax machines churned out statements to the press, and the party faithful talked about how Kemp would bring new momentum and excitement to a campaign that needed a kick-start.
“You could almost hear a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm around the country,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said Kemp could “provide a real spark for the campaign.”
The potential choice of the former pro footballer and Cabinet officer set off all sorts of sports metaphors.
“It proves once again Jack’s capacity to bounce back in the fourth quarter and win the game. It would be wonderful if he is the choice,” House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia said Friday evening.
Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart, among those passing out footballs, said the vice presidential choice “doesn’t have a defining positive role in most races.” Ultimately, he said, “people are voting for president.”
But for Republicans, the idea of Kemp as Dole’s running mate was pumping adrenalin into the campaign.
“Look at the enthusiasm the prospect already has generated,” said former Dole rival Steve Forbes, as he emerged from a luncheon speech Friday, where his mention of the Kemp name produced a standing ovation.
Forbes, who sought the GOP nomination only after Kemp decided not to run in the primaries, called Dole-Kemp a “dream ticket.” Kemp, a housing secretary under President George Bush, also was touted as the only potential vice presidential contender who has national recognition.
“This is good for Dole,” said William Kristol, former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and editor-publisher of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. “Jack Kemp is a figure of national stature. He’s bold.”
Republicans say Kemp, who served nine terms in the U.S. House from Buffalo, N.Y., will reach out to bluecollar workers and to minorities.
When Dole rejected an invitation to speak before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last month, his campaign offered to send Kemp as a substitute.
As HUD secretary in the Bush administration, he was known as an advocate of enterprise zones and tenant ownership of public housing.
Hutchison said, “He has reached out to people from all walks of life with an important message: the more opportunity there is in this country, the more people can share in the American dream.”
Texas Republican Chairman Tom Pauken said the potential selection of Kemp, who has not had a close relationship with Dole, “says a lot about Dole. He really wants to win.”
The two men have never had a particularly warm relationship, associates of both say. And it soured when Kemp endorsed Forbes, his friend and fellow flat-tax advocate, just before the New York primary in April. Dole said at the time that he wouldn’t have to deal with “the quarterback” anymore.
It was not until this week, when Dole announced his economic plan, that the presumptive GOP nominee endorsed the kind of tax-cutting policies that Kemp has championed since the Ronald Reagan years.