Bob Dole insists he's gaining on President Clinton nationwide and "we're going to make it." But a new poll showing him trailing Clinton by 23 points in California was sobering news to GOP strategists who had hoped for a far better showing.
Dole was completing a three-day campaign visit to the nation's most populous state Wednesday with a speech on immigration and a GOP rally, both in the Los Angeles area.Aides said he would voice strong support for House-passed legislation to give states the option of denying education to illegal immigrant children and spending the money elsewhere.
The immigration issue is a potent one in California. Dole will suggest that the $1.9 billion the state spends each year on education and other services for illegal immigrants could be better spent elsewhere, aides said.
Dole has vowed to make an all-out effort to win California's 54 electoral votes. But he got some disappointing news Tuesday from a new Field Poll showing Clinton with 57 percent, Dole with 34 percent and 9 percent undecided - in a two-man race.
The poll, taken June 10-16, showed Clinton's lead over Dole had increased to 23 percentage points over the 16 in the last poll, taken in March.
Dole and his aides were quick to try to discredit the poll, suggesting the race was really much tighter.
"I think that's inaccurate," Dole said in an interview with KBAK in Bakersfield. "It's about 10 points, maybe less, that I'm behind. But it's about a seven to eight to nine-point race nationwide. But polls are polls, they're going to go up and down. . . . I think we are gaining."
Nelson Warfield, a Dole spokesman, said Clinton's advantage so far was due largely to his campaign's ability to spend more money in California than can the cash-short Dole campaign, whose coffers were exhausted by a bitter GOP primary.
"After our convention gives us a boost, we'll be on a level playing field," Warfield said.
Dole adviser Ken Khachigian cited other polls showing a closer race, in the range of about 12 percent. But, he added, "It really doesn't matter what the polls say in June."
If Dole was frustrated by the latest polls, it was not apparent as he made an impromptu stop at a shopping mall in Newport Beach on Tuesday night, near where he was spending the night.
"We're going to make it," he told a rally in Bakersfield.
Dole had campaign stops Wednesday in Burbank and Woodland Hills before flying to Michigan.
He was delivering an immigration speech at a wholesale computer distribution center in Woodland Hills.
Dole was to voice support for a House-passed amendment by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., to a wide-ranging bill designed to crack down on illegal immigration, aides said.
The amendment - sure to be challenged in the courts if included in final legislation - would allow states to bar illegal immigrant children from public schools. The Senate version of immigration legislation does not contain such a provision.