Kemp The Younger
He offers a vision of vigor, vision and, most importantly, youth
By Frank Sesno/CNN
There he stood. Triumphant. The personification of Republican vigor and vision. The man who would attract independents, women, minorities -- and younger voters. He's the former professional football player who is himself forever young, thanks to TV clips that take us back to his days on the playing field. The man who, when he speaks, wears his youthful exuberance and his Reaganesque optimism on his sleeve.
When he spoke, standing there next to Bob Dole in Russell, Kan., Jack Kemp performed as expected -- sounding his message of inclusion, invoking his lofty image of America as "the bright signal in an otherwise dark night." This is just the sort of energy and message and optimism that the Dole candidacy has lacked. And, if it is designed to capture the imaginations of younger voters, this move is just what the campaign needs.
One Dole insider who knows the campaign's tracking numbers concedes that Dole is in desperate shape. His own polling reveals that 50 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the man. Says this insider: "It's no man's land for a successful candidate." Dole is way back among working women, homemakers, suburbanites -- and younger voters.
But Republican operatives are crossing their fingers, hoping that Kemp's rising tide can lift Dole's boat. The number crunchers inside the campaign say Kemp scores extremely well among registered voters age 18-34. Better than any of the other names who were talked about for the number two position. Right up there with Colin Powell.
Kemp connects with younger voters, the thinking goes, because he stands for growth and economic opportunity, which many young people fear is slipping away, possibly beyond their reach. He wants smaller government, which younger voters tend to favor. And they also like him because Jack Kemp seems, well, young, vital, even hip. Never mind that he is 61 years old and has 11 grandchildren.
What Kemp brings -- and what Dole needs -- is a message, and a track record, of tolerance and inclusion, say GOP sources. That's what's needed to attract independents and women, who are inclined to agree with the Republican message of fiscal responsibility, but who are turned off by the harsher side of GOP rhetoric. Kemp sees America as a melting pot where diversity should be embraced, encouraged and nurtured.
In his speech from Russell, Kemp used a rhetorical belt sander to soften the sharp edges of the GOP. He reminded the party faithful that the GOP is the "Lincoln party." He asserted that Dole is running on an "inclusive agenda." He said the GOP's pro-business bent is relevant to "the children of poverty in America's inner cities who have never seen a business open in their life." He promised that he and Dole will campaign "from the boroughs of New York to the barrios of California." He closed by quoting from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Yet Kemp makes conservatives comfortable, too. They are inspired by his zeal to cut taxes and reduce the size of the federal government. They know he is solidly anti-abortion and a proponent of conservative "family values." Kemp referred to "cultural renewal" more than once in his speech. Of course, even this isn't enough for the Buchanan Brigade, which distrusts Kemp's friendly attitude towards immigration and his opposition to term limits; the Buchananites, however, won't be much of a force beyond San Diego.
Historically, the number two slot on the ticket does not make much of a difference in the way Americans vote. Bob Dole is banking on Kemp to break this pattern. In any case, Kemp makes the race much more interesting. He will put personality on the podium. He will reach out to new constituencies. And he will bring a sense of youth to the Grand Old Party.
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