Courting California’s pivotal suburban vote, Bob Dole promised strict punishment Wednesday for youths drawn to gangs and drugs but said society also must help those children who “never have a chance in America.”
Tough talk on crime is a staple of Dole’s effort to introduce himself to California voters and erase President Clinton’s big lead in the state with the biggest November electoral prize. He delivered a scathing critique of what he said was Clinton’s failure to stem the tide of illegal drugs into the United States.
But Dole also spoke compassionately about children from shattered families in what appeared to be a recognition that tough talk alone will not win over the moderate, independent-minded voters crucial to his chances here.
To illustrate his concern with battling crime, Dole visited a suburban Redondo Beach park once threatened by gangs, saluting community activists who worked with police to clean up the park and impose a curfew. “This is the spirit I want to see all across America,” the Republican presidential candidate said. “We can beat gangs and we can beat drugs if we work together.”
Later, San Diego police and community leaders briefed Dole on local drug and crime problems. Visiting a park where teachers must clear hypodermic needles from the schoolyard, Dole called Clinton an election-year convert to the importance of addressing the drug problem.
“When I am president, there are going to be two wars declared: a war on illegal immigration and a war on drugs,” Dole promised.
As Dole sought to establish a foothold in California, the White House suggested Dole was celebrating a Clinton success story.
Even before Dole spoke, Clinton aides said four of Redondo Beach’s community police officers were funded through a Clinton program that Dole opposed, and that the town was due another $215,000 to put a dozen more cops on the beat.