With a colorful spectacle of boats, afternoon fireworks and partisan politics, Bob Dole arrived Sunday for his long-awaited nominating convention with his running mate, Jack Kemp, and a rousing pitch for his centerpiece plan to cut taxes.
As buoyant supporters chanted “Dole-Kemp, Dole-Kemp” at a rally in a sunny park jutting into San Diego Bay, Dole immediately went on the attack against President Clinton in a speech that signaled a bruising fall campaign in which the Republicans will appeal to the anxiety of middle-class voters.
“If Bill Clinton opposed tax cuts, he obviously didn’t mean it when he said the era of big government was over,” Dole said in a punchy dry run for his presidential nomination acceptance speech Thursday. “I think what’s happening, the era of Bill Clinton is about over. And that is going to happen sooner than you think.”
After a primary campaign notable for his stark appeals to conservatives, Dole, who told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he has not even read the party’s starkly conservative platform, sought Sunday to strike a more broadly appealing, confident tone.
He repeatedly invoked Ronald Reagan, the last Republican who rode to the White House on a promise of tax cuts.
“It’s time to lift up America,” Dole said. “Lift up America. Lift up our economy. Lift up our schools. Lift up our families. Lift up our values. And, most of all, lift up our expectations. And that’s exactly what Jack Kemp and I are going to do.”
In his new subordinate role, Kemp accused the White House of “kibitzing and criticism” of Dole’s blueprint to cut taxes and balance the budget. “The president has said he is unalterably opposed,” said the former New York congressman. “His advisers have said it can’t be done. They don’t know Bob Dole and they don’t know Jack Kemp.”
Saying that “everything before has been a warm-up lap, a trial heat,” Dole was seeking a fresh start for his campaign as thousands of Republicans poured into this clean and breezy city for their convention that opens today and will nominate him to be president of the United States.
Republicans are counting on their four-day made-for-television extravaganza to help Dole close Clinton’s monthslong lead in the polls - and to dress up the image of a party that many Americans blame for shutting down the federal government last year.
As Republicans sought a harmonious pose, even Pat Buchanan, whose candidacy has been a major irritant to Dole for months, seemed to cooperate - at least for Sunday.
“It is time for a party truce in the name of a Republican victory,” Buchanan said in remarks prepared for delivery Sunday night at a rally north of San Diego in Escondido.
There were more political dealings up the coast in Long Beach. In a gathering that could spell more trouble for the Republicans in the fall, the Reform Party, established by Ross Perot, opened its convention with Perot and former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm vying for the nomination.
In his speech Sunday, Dole did his best to pre-empt the competition. “As of now, the president and his party are the party of the status quo,” Dole said. “We are the reform party.” He added, “We have all the ideas. And they have all the excuses.”
But in presenting the GOP ticket as oriented to the future, Dole turned to the past.
From the opening line, when he asserted, “We’re going to win one for the Gipper,” his speech was salted with references to carrying the banner of Ronald Reagan through a proposal that he claims would cut taxes and balance the budget at the same time.
“One man, Ronald Reagan, really did start it all,” he said. “And we’re thinking of him today, and God bless Ronald Reagan today. Now it’s up to us to finish the job and win the Reagan revolution once and for all.”
Dole and his aides seemed in particularly high spirits, not only because of the long-awaited convention but because their broke campaign is now due for an infusion of nearly $70 million in federal money.
The campaign will roll out a television advertising blitz today touting the economic plan.