Facebook Twitter



THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL campaign steamed out of this port city on its way to November, hoping fervently it hasn't booked passage on the Titanic.

Even the most optimistic of candidate Robert Dole's crew concede they are in for rough seas before the former senator can begin to convince Americans they should trade in their Baby Boomer president for the experience and wisdom of an earlier generation - and do so in a period of relative prosperity.Buoyed by an acceptance speech that addressed the age issue and emphasized the personal travails that led him from near death as a war hero to his party's highest honor, Dole emphasized his readiness for what will be an extremely arduous campaign if he is to overtake President Clinton.

It will begin almost immediately, with the major emphasis on the central theme of a 15 percent tax cut to stimulate growth.

Strategists stressed the need to stay away from personal attacks on Clinton, whom Dole called his opponent, "not my enemy." But there clearly is no intention to treat the president gently on the issues of decisiveness and trust.

To sell the economic policy will be long, hard work, and Dole will need the help of his running mate, former Rep. Jack Kemp, one of the key advocates for trickle-down economics in the 1980s, and several others responsible for his recently unveiled economic growth policy.

Kemp, the ex-pro football quarterback who is 12 years younger than Dole, will join Dole in the campaign's initial outing after San Diego. How much they will campaign together still hasn't been determined, but some of those close to the campaign believe Kemp will carry a sizable burden. He gave an almost perfect setup speech for Dole.

Dole's inner circle of advisers will include a number of the party's brightest minds and political stars, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, himself a finalist in the vice presidential derby, and Govs. John Engler of Michigan, George Voinovich of Ohio and Pete Wilson of California. The Dole campaign plane at any one time will have members of the team that put together the economic plan, including Martin Anderson, a former aide to presidents Nixon and Reagan.

Of major concern to campaign managers is Dole's age. At 73 he is faced with a campaign schedule that reflects his need to catch up in a hurry and would strain someone 20 years younger. Some advisers are suggesting he limit his appearances to two a day with a lot of television.

But this may not be possible if he is to project an image of vitality and vigor, which key aides say, is necessary to overcome voter concern about his age and his physical condition.

Dole managers did not expect to come out of this tepid convention with much of a bump in the polls for their candidate. It is enough, they say, that they have convinced the country to take a second look at Dole.

The first really significant polling won't take place until after the Democrats finish their convention in Chicago. Between now and then, Dole will launch a major television advertising blitz, missing until now because he had spent up to his limit in the contested Republican primaries. Clinton had no opposition and had plenty of money left for early advertising.

The key to the election are the states heavy with electoral votes - Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and California. Much of the emphasis will be on these states with Kemp, a native Californian, expected to spend much of his time there.

This is likely to be one of the most negative campaigns in recent memory.

The White House wasted no time in calling Dole's speech "divisive," and most longtime observers of these things don't believe for a moment that as the race tightens there will be no attempt by Dole surrogates to exploit the issue of Clinton's character.

The next 82 days will be the most difficult for Dole in his political career.