Bob Dole lavishly praised his vice presidential choice Jack Kemp as an “American original” on Saturday and then stood beaming as Kemp charmed a flag-waving crowd with a promise “to represent the whole American family.”
Standing in the exact spot where he was introduced 20 years ago as the running mate of President Gerald R. Ford, Dole described Kemp - who was sneaked into Dole’s house here Saturday morning through an alley - as a visionary “who believes in the same values I believe in.”
Dole said nothing of the many policy and personal differences that for years have distanced his deficit-hawk brand of Republicanism from that of Kemp, 61, a former quarterback, congressman, Cabinet secretary and garrulous poster boy for supply-side economics and empathy for the inner-city.
Instead, between eruptions of fireworks that gently pelted the adoring crowd with little American flags floating down on tiny parachutes, Dole noted that his “15” running mate - on a scale of one to 10 - had worn that number when he played for the Buffalo Bills. And Dole said Kemp would be instrumental in selling voters on his campaign’s 15-percent, across-the-board tax cut plan.
“There’s that number 15 again,” said Dole, who spoke about seven minutes before calling upon “the man of the hour.”
Kemp joked that Dole had told him to keep it short - then delivered an ebullient and eloquent speech that took nearly twice as long as that of his new boss.
The gray-haired, broad-shouldered politician - who until Saturday had been cast into the wilderness (as he himself put it) by Republicans suspicious of his ideological enthusiasm - could hardly contain his delight at being invited onto center stage in the weekend before the opening of the Republican Party convention in San Diego.
“It is no secret that I believe this is the most exciting time in the most eventful century in human history,” Kemp enthused.
He went on to quote Martin Luther King Jr. (a practice that has not been a staple of the Dole campaign) and to emphasize that he has joined forces with Dole to help the Republican ticket become more inclusive.
“Let me take a moment to put our opponents on notice,” Kemp said. “Bob and I are going to be asking for the support of every single American, from the boroughs of New York to the barrios of California. The appeal of growth and opportunity crosses every boundary of geography and climate and race.
“We may not get every vote, but we’re going to make it unambiguously clear in word and in our actions that we want to and intend to represent the whole American family, that no one will be left behind and no one will be turned away. That’s the Bob Dole mission for America,” Kemp said.
When Kemp was nearly finished - as he declared “our goal is not just to win, but to be worthy of winning” - a Roman Catholic priest from St. Mary’s parish here in Russell shouted above the noisy crowd to a reporter:
“Nice speech!” said the Rev. Charlie Steirer.
Kemp’s gift for inspiring audiences with words is a major strength that he brings to the Republican ticket.
But even enthusiastic Republicans noted a downside. Not only is he a rhetorical songbird compared with Dole, but for years he has advocated ideas that Dole disagrees with. Kemp, for example, has opposed the balanced budget amendment that Dole swears by.
Kemp opposes Republican proposals to impose strict limits on the rights of immigrants to education and welfare, while Dole is sympathetic to those ideas.
But a major theme of Kemp’s unveiling here - after a front-page guessing game orchestrated by the campaign last week for maximum publicity - was that the Hall of Fame quarterback would sit on the bench whenever Dole wanted him to.
“The bottom line is whatever Dole is for, Jack Kemp is for,” said Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Kemp who help organize his failed presidential run in 1988 and came on board the Dole campaign in the past week.