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Grumbling In Gop Ranks Disturbs Dole’s Campaign

The struggling Republican presidential campaign Monday battled grumbling in the ranks and a report of friction at the top.

Jack Kemp, Bob Dole’s vice presidential running mate, dismissed as “ridiculous” a report in Newsweek magazine that he told some Republican governors the current race “is over” and solicited their support for a presidential campaign of his own in 2000.

On another front, the Dole campaign enlisted several Republican governors to counter the assessment of GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, who said the Republican national effort this year is one of the most inept he has ever seen.

Such discontent was virtually certain to erupt around a campaign trailing the Democratic ticket nationally by what even Republican insiders concede is at least 10 percentage points. Perhaps it is most noteworthy that the badmouthing did not surface so publicly until barely two weeks before Election Day.

The late grumbling did not stop the Clinton campaign from gathering the public comments of several Republican state chairmen and officials and distributing them in a press release dubbed “What Republicans Are Saying About The Dole Campaign.” Included was Arizona Gov. Fife Symington’s remark to the New York Times that “the Dole campaign has been Melba toast.”

Newsweek reported that relations between Dole and Kemp, frequent foes for almost two decades, have once again iced over.

The magazine quoted an unnamed “Dole loyalist” as saying: “There’s so much tension when they are together now, it’s like the old days” - a reference to the two men’s ideological fights over economic policy in the early days of the Reagan administration and again when they both sought and lost the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.

“This is somebody hard up for a story,” Kemp said.

As for the magazine’s report that Kemp thought the current race was lost and was lining up support for four years hence, the former Housing secretary replied with an answer that was less than a declaration that the story was wholly false.

“It is pure unadulterated pessimism by somebody else, not me,” said Kemp, a pro quarterback before entering politics. “I’ve never played in a game of football or been in a political contest in my life that I didn’t go into it without the firm conviction that I would win.

“They’re talking about somebody else, not me.”

Dole and Kemp, appearing at the same event for the first time in a week, looked amicable enough when they met Monday at the Detroit Diesel Corp. for a National Governors Association economic forum. But as Dole delivered a defense of his economic plan, Kemp sat with his arms folded, leaning away from his candidate, with a quizzical look on his face.

Any resurgent animosity between the candidates, a longtime Dole supporter said, might stem from Kemp’s kid-gloves handling of Vice President Al Gore in the sole running-mates’ debate Oct. 9. Although Kemp has said Dole did not want him to rough up Clinton while debating Gore, some in the campaign believe that is exactly what Dole wanted him to do.

As it turned out, it was left to Dole to become more critical of Clinton in their second debate last week.

Intraparty warning flags went up over the weekend after Wisconsin’s Thompson trashed the Dole political operation on a nationally syndicated radio program Friday.

“I thought George Bush’s (1992) campaign was probably the poorest run campaign, and I think this is a close second,” said Thompson.

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