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Dole Steps Up Campaign Against Forbes Senator Demands Wealthy Rival Release His Own Tax Returns

GOP presidential front-runner Bob Dole demanded Saturday that Steve Forbes release his tax returns and said he was convinced his wealthy rival’s relentless negative advertising barrage was starting to backfire.

But even as Dole criticized Forbes for attacking him “day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute,” his campaign was preparing to unleash a fresh ad assault of its own against Forbes. The spots are to begin early this week in Iowa and move beyond criticism of Forbes’ flat tax plan.

“After $8 million aimed at Bob Dole we decided maybe it is time to respond,” Dole said.

With just 23 days until New Hampshire’s leadoff primary, and two weeks to the Iowa caucuses, Dole began a six-hour campaign day focused squarely on President Clinton, acting as if the Republican nomination was in his grasp.

The November contest, the Senate majority leader said, “will be about Bob Dole and Bill Clinton and which one can provide the moral leadership, which one can talk about our values, which one can lead us in the right direction.”

But Dole veered frequently from his critique of Clinton to target Forbes, telling evidence of how the multimillionaire publisher’s campaign has emerged as a serious threat to Dole.

“I don’t think the people of New Hampshire care much for negative politics,” Dole said to applause at Globe Manufacturing, which makes protective gear for firefighters. “This is serious. This is not a game. This is not about who can spend the most money.”

Dole said his polling in Iowa suggested Forbes was paying a price for his negative attacks, and predicted New Hampshire would turn next. And, trying to put Forbes on the defensive, Dole said: “Malcolm, please release your tax returns.” Forbes, whose given name is Malcolm Stevenson Forbes Jr., has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns.

Dole has released returns dating back 30 years and said voters “have every right to see what we spend, what we make, what we contributed to, where the income came from.”

At one stop, the state firefighting academy, Dole’s quick wit turned on Forbes when a television light popped. “There goes the Forbes campaign,” he said. “A flash in the pan.”

Dole got a forceful assist from New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill, who said the Forbes flat “tax scheme” would hurt middle-class families by eliminating federal deductions for mortgage interest and state property taxes.