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Dole To Bet It All On California Win Risky Strategy Will Divert Time, Money From Other States

MONDAY, OCT. 14, 1996

Confronting polls that show President Clinton dominant in nearly every region of the country, senior aides to Bob Dole said Sunday they had tentatively decided to pour resources into California while pulling back in other important states like New Jersey and Ohio.

After Dole met for about an hour with a handful of his closest advisers at the campaign’s headquarters here on Saturday, participants said there was near unanimous agreement they should make an all-out push for California.

The strategy is considered risky, and the decision comes quite late for a national campaign: just three weeks before the election and at a time when Dole continues to trail the president in national polls by double-digit margins.

The strategy comes as the campaign has been focusing in recent days on another crucial strategy: whether Dole should attack the president on the issues of ethics and character, particularly in the final presidential debate on Wednesday in San Diego.

At least 11 states, with 112 electoral votes, still appear too close to call, and a decision to compete vigorously in a state as big as California - with a fifth of the electoral votes needed for victory - means that the campaign would be diverting millions of dollars from some of these battlegrounds. But Dole aides said they were buoyed by the well-regarded Field Poll last week showing that Dole had cut Clinton’s lead there to 10 points.

The aides cautioned that Dole had not formally signed off on the electoral strategy decision, and could always change course, and campaigns do sometimes try to mislead opponents on strategy.

But the aides said Dole had indicated at the meeting that the California route made sense, and Jack Kemp, the vice-presidential candidate, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Sunday both emphasized Republican chances in the state.

One senior aide to Dole, speaking on the condition of anonymity, offered this view: “The map that was presented to him was a California victory strategy. There seemed to be pretty much unanimity that California was the way to go. The pot of money is not unlimited and it has to come from somewhere.”

The Dole campaign faces these decisions because three weeks before the election, an analysis of the latest state polls and interviews with political professionals show that Clinton is overwhelming Dole in nearly every region except the narrow swath of the Great Plains that runs from North Dakota to Texas.

The state-by-state numbers are telling because the race for the White House boils down to which contender can pile up 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes.

An analysis by The New York Times found that 26 states, and the District of Columbia, now lean toward Clinton for a total of 325 electoral votes; the 13 states favoring Dole amount to 101 electoral votes. The remaining 11 states appear too close to call. But even if Dole won every toss-up state, they would not put him over the top. Ross Perot appears far out of reach of winning any state.

The aides to Dole contended that an aggressive campaign in California would cost about $4 million, much of which would have gone into Midwestern battlegrounds like Ohio and Illinois, as well as New Jersey. He is trailing by double digits in polls in all three states.

Such a path would be a fundamental change because, just Sunday, Dole campaigned in New Jersey and has campaigned there frequently. If the campaign decides to compete hard in California, it may not totally forfeit Ohio and New Jersey, but would likely scale back sharply there, the aides said.

Of those two states, aides said Dole appeared most enthusiastic about his prospects in Ohio. New Jersey is seen as a bigger potential drain of resources because advertising in the New York market is much more expensive than elsewhere.

And while Dole has not been advertising in Illinois, aides said he would if he decided not to pursue the California plan.

Scott Reed, the Dole campaign manager, said on Friday that he saw California as winnable.

“We’ll be fighting it out in half a dozen to eight battleground states, including California,” Reed said. “We’re going for it.”

He said Dole could win if he captured “California and the Midwest and a few cherry pickers in the Northeast.”

Reed cited New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware as “all winnable - all reachable.” But Dole is well behind in the polls in all five states.

In television interviews on Sunday, the strategy for California was championed by Gingrich, who sees an aggressive campaign there as a way for Republicans to retain control of the House of Representatives, and by Kemp, a native of the state.

Gingrich, on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” said: “In California, Dole is only 10 points behind I think he’ll carry California by 6 points on Election Day.”

Kemp, on the ABC News program “This Week” said from Irvine, Calif.: “I’m in California, and we’re down by 10. It is tightening in California, and we carry California and this election is over for Bill Clinton.”

Although even Dole strategists concede that closing the gap in California would be a mountainous task this close to the election, the picture is not encouraging in several large industrial states like Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Dole the Republicans are is trailing by double digits.

State polls show that Dole is decisively ahead only in pockets in the West and South that have long been Republican strongholds, but has yet to pull ahead in other traditional Republican bastions in those regions - including Arizona, Florida and Virginia - that for at least three decades had been pivotal to the party’s so-called electoral lock.

Charles Cook Jr., who publishes a nonpartisan political newsletter and who recently wrote an article about how Dole could win, said he could no longer make the case for a Dole victory.

“I would put Dole’s chances of winning at less than 5 percent,” Cook said. “I don’t see anything that could happen within the context of this campaign that would turn it around.”

In a memo made public late last week by Reed, the Dole campaign manager, he took issue with such critiques.

“The White House is desperately attempting to convince the press and the public that this election is already over,” Reed said.

“They’re trying as hard as possible to sit on the ball and run out the clock, hoping the American people won’t take a close look at both candidates before making their decision. They’re wrong.”

xxxx ELECTORAL ANALYSIS An analysis by The New York Times found that 26 states, and the District of Columbia, now lean toward President Clinton for a total of 325 electoral votes; the 13 states favoring Bob Dole amount to 101 electoral votes. The remaining 11 states appear too close to call. But even if Dole won every toss-up state, they would not put him over the top.

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