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Dole Confers With Strategists As Kemp Takes Shots At Clinton Candidate Trying To Decide Where To Focus In Final Weeks

Bob Dole huddled with top strategists Saturday to map the final three weeks of his campaign as running mate Jack Kemp took his turn at challenging President Clinton’s “arrogance of power” and “habit of half-truths.”

It was the latest installment in the campaign’s new drive to cut Clinton’s lead by putting his ethics on public trial.

Delivering the Republican response to Clinton’s weekly radio address, Kemp recalled Clinton’s 1992 inaugural-week pledge to hold his administration to the highest ethical standards.

“But four years later, the words that seem to characterize the ethics of this administration are words like Travelgate, Filegate, independent counsels and possible presidential pardons,” said Kemp, who was campaigning in Oregon and southern California.

Controversies over firings in the White House travel office, the misappropriation of FBI files and Clinton’s refusal to rule out considering pardons for his former business partners in the Whitewater case all add up to a “sad and troubling” pattern, Kemp said.

“An arrogance of power. The avoidance of responsibility. The habit of half-truths. For this administration, taking credit is everything and the truth is expendable,” said Kemp, who just Wednesday, in his debate with Vice President Al Gore, flatly refused bait to attack the president.

Dole took a day off from the campaign trail to assess with aides several options for reaching the winning 270-electoral vote threshold.

Asked on the eve of that strategy summit what would happen if he loses in November, Dole said, “I’m prepared for that. Obviously, I want to win.

“If we work hard and do our best and lose, it’s not what we want but it’s something I could accept.”

On Saturday, he presided over a 50-minute meeting with campaign manager Scott Reed and his top strategists: Jill Hansen, Paul Manafort, Rick Davis, Donald Rumsfeld, John Buckley, Anthony Fabrizio and Nelson Warfield.

The biggest bloc of time was spent debating whether Dole should go all out to win California and its 54 electoral votes. A majority of the aides advocated a full-bore campaign there - especially given that Clinton appears to be holding to double-digit leads in the Midwest battlegrounds.

Pollster Fabrizio, who has been opposed to targeting California, told Dole that internal campaign polling was consistent with a new public survey showing Clinton’s lead shrinking to 10 points in the state.