Following the campaign trail laid down 10 years ago by another Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole came Saturday to one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite campaign stops, the Illinois State Fair, to preach one of Reagan’s favorite messages: tax cuts.
“The president says the era of big government is over,” Dole declared at a frenzied and packed rally inside a show barn on the grounds of the state fair. “That’s got to stop.”
“We are having slower economic growth than in any recovery in the country,” Dole told hundreds of people who filled the show barn, waving flags, flowers and pictures of the candidate. “They’ve given you lower wages, economic anxiety and the largest tax increase in the history of the world. And that’s why they’re going to go back to Arkansas.”
At that, Dole’s crowd - one of the largest and most excited he has encountered in this campaign - broke into a deafening roar of: “Send Bill home!” Dole took the stage Saturday aware of a poll by his campaign suggesting that the race had tightened markedly since the convention began. Other private polls have also shown a tighter race.
He was also aware that the Democrats have began their own effort, including commercials, to assert that his economic proposals would force either an increase in the budget deficit or dramatic cuts in government programs. Dole signaled his most explicit effort yet to rebut that.
“They’re trying to scare the American people about my pro-growth economic plan,” he said. “The only people who are really scared - you can see it in their faces - are the Democrats in the White House.”
Dole’s crowd was made up largely of farmers, many of them Republicans, and many recalled coming to this same fair to see Reagan and George Bush.
Still, even given the Republican and agricultural roots here - Dole grew up in Russell, Kan., also farm country - the Republican presidential candidate seemed startled by the vigor of his reception.
When he came to the part of the speech where he advocated a “flatter, fairer” tax system, he slipped and termed it a “fatter” tax. At that, Dole grinned down at the reporters at his feet and quickly corrected himself.
The event was framed by picturesque symbols of agriculture, as Dole announced that with this trip, he was returning “to the heartland.” Harvested stalks of sweet corn - seven feet high - were lined up against the stage. The stage itself was piled with bales of straw.
For all the trappings, though, the site was quite genuine; a dairy cow show was moved out of the center Saturday morning to make room for Dole’s rally, which had to be moved inside because it rained.
Dole has been here before, and he used this visit Saturday to invoke both the names of Lincoln and Reagan, both Republicans associated with Illinois and the convention that just ended. Later, in a light summer rain, Dole paid his second visit to Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield.
Dole’s remarks came in the Illinois state capital, and in a state that Clinton won in 1992 and would like to win again, as Dole and Kemp began their second day of campaigning since the convention.
The effort slowed from a sprint to a stroll, as the visit here Saturday was the only campaign stop on their schedule.
Dole’s aides said that they had decided, at least for now, to reduce the campaign visibility of Elizabeth Dole, and she has taken a noticeable back seat at the events of the past few days.
Campaign officials said the reason for this was that there was some concern that the obvious campaign strengths of both the candidate’s wife and his running mate, as much as they have been appreciated by crowds, threatened to overcome Dole’s own more laconic and less structured style.