Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole campaigned in a crucial state Thursday with retired Gen. Colin L. Powell - keeping up an elaborate game of tease in which Dole repeatedly has hinted that Powell would have a role in his administration, but has failed to specify a post.
In Dole’s largest and most spirited crowd in weeks, several thousand people jammed downtown Cincinnati’s Fountain Square on a bright fall day to hear from the Republican presidential candidate, running mate Jack Kemp and Powell.
“My task, specifically, is to introduce you to a straightforward man who has a straightforward vision for America,” Powell said in introducing Dole and saluting the self-described presidential underdog as a fellow soldier.
“He wears proudly the Purple Heart as a daily reminder to him about what fighting for this country is all about,” Powell said of Dole.
Asked offstage what Powell brings to the campaign, Dole said, “He’s a good friend. I think he gives me more vim and vinegar and vitality … a little excitement, too.”
Excitement was what Dole had hoped to generate with his performance against President Clinton in their first debate last week. But with post-debate polls finding Dole’s double-digit deficit largely unchanged, he has just one week before the final debate to find a comeback route.
Dole aides often have suggested that their candidate might soon announce a potential Cabinet post for Powell - Secretary of State is the one most often mentioned - hoping that if Dole did make that move it would generate some excitement for the Republican ticket.
For weeks, the campaign has hinted that it would try to stir enthusiasm by announcing Powell as Dole’s pick for secretary of state.
On stage Thursday, with Powell standing behind him, Dole said nothing of the general’s place in a future Dole administration. But he told reporters that Powell was “going to be one of the stars of our administration.”
The idea of announcing Cabinet picks in advance has been discussed within the Dole campaign. But Dole, according to campaign sources, has resisted on grounds it would be viewed as a gimmick born of desperation.
Undecided voter Judy Smallwood, a Cincinnati clerk, said Powell was a “drawing card” for the GOP ticket. But, she added, “that still wouldn’t sway me. He’s not the one running, and even secretary of state doesn’t have much say-so on the stuff I care about in government.”
Still, Dole has been eager to involve the former general. Powell has been described by Dole aides as somewhat reluctant to go solo in any prospective Cabinet announcement but willing to be part of a broader list.
Powell, whom Dole aggressively courted in his search for a running mate, has campaigned for the GOP ticket just twice before - at the Republican convention and at an Aug. 20 meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Louisville, Ky.
“‘I am not an active working politician. I have a private life. What I have said I would do is support the senator out at the convention and from time to time make appearances,” Powell told reporters here. “I am not an active, on-the-road Republican. That was the choice I made, living my private life. It’s a choice that has worked out good.”
Dole’s trip to Ohio was his 30th in a presidential campaign that began in the spring of 1995. With 21 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory, Ohio is a crucial factor in Dole’s strategy, and no Republican has been elected president without winning the state.
Dole lapped up the excitement at Thursday’s event, draping his arm around a guitar player with the Jerry Conrad Rhythm and Brass band and singing along to “Dole Man.” In his speech, he called Clinton “the Great Exaggerator” for taking credit for a strong economy.
Kemp, too, tried to boost the Republicans’ own economic plan - including a 15 percent income tax cut - by undercutting Democratic bragging rights to economic growth and low unemployment. Quoting from Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, Kemp told the rally: “Al Gore said Bill Clinton is doing the very best job he can. And you know what? He’s right. This is the best Bill Clinton can do.”
“Bob Dole can do a lot better,” Kemp finished to a great cheer.