Dole ‘Betting the Campaign’ on California

With two weeks remaining before the election, Bob Dole’s campaign has dispatched new strategists to buttress the party’s do-or-die drive for California, saying they “are betting the campaign” on the struggle for the nation’s richest electoral prize and feel they must separate their effort from an unpopular Gov. Pete Wilson.

“The campaign can’t afford to be associated with Wilson’s unpopularity with independent voters,” a senior Dole aide said Monday as Dole campaigned in Michigan. “We don’t want to have our message confused with the messenger.”

Wilson administration officials reacted angrily to the suggestion that the governor’s unpopularity was hurting Dole in the state.

“Sen. Dole has pledged to run his California campaign with the governor on [the] core issues” of affirmative action, immigration and crime, said the governor’s press secretary, Sean Walsh. “And we are now seeing that commitment in both resources and in time.”

Indeed, the suggestion that Dole would try to distance himself from Wilson is somewhat ironic given that the themes Dole is now stressing in the state–affirmative action, illegal immigration, the impact of defense cuts and taxes–are largely Wilson’s.

Of the four issues, the only one that Dole has stressed until the last few days is the call for tax cuts. All four of those issues will be central to a large new television advertising campaign by the Republicans that is scheduled to begin today.

Under its latest electoral vote plan, the Dole campaign is operating with extremely little margin for error and must win nearly every state it is still contesting–a strategy similar to that of a gambler hoping to draw to an inside straight.

Having essentially abandoned states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut to concentrate resources on California, two senior campaign officials said Dole is now seriously contesting states with only about 300-310 electoral votes–just over the 270 needed for victory. And in many of the targeted states, including not only California but Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Louisiana, Dole remains far behind.

Parallels to Dukakis

In trying to draw 270 electoral votes from such a thin deck of potential targets, the Dole campaign finds itself in a situation analogous to Democratic candidates like Walter F. Mondale and Michael S. Dukakis during the 1980s.

All that makes California, and its 54 electoral votes, essential to Dole. Last week, Republican officials said Dole would spend between $1.3 million and $1.5 million per week on new television ads to contest California–a substantial amount even by the state’s standards. Democratic officials, who have been tracking the opposition’s ad purchases and plan to match them, said Monday the Republicans had committed just over $1 million for ads over the next seven nights in Los Angeles, San Diego and the Central Valley.

But a senior campaign official said the Republicans would actually spend $8 million on the final media blitz in the state–an amount that vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp said in an interview would be roughly 40% of what is available to the campaign nationwide. The final effort will include television, radio and 6 million pieces of mail jointly paid for with the Republican National Committee, Kemp’s campaign manager, Wayne Berman, said.

Dole is expected to continue airing an advertisement in which his wife, Elizabeth, talks about his trustworthiness, and a spot attacking the Democrats’ acceptance of money from foreign donors.

Klaas Backs Clinton

For their part, the Democrats are airing commercials featuring endorsements of President Clinton by former President Reagan’s press secretary, James A. Brady, and by Marc Klaas, who praises Clinton for supporting tougher sentences for repeat offenders such as the man who killed his daughter, Polly. The Democrats also plan to continue ads criticizing Dole’s record as “wrong in the past” and lauding Clinton for protecting Medicare.

In his interview with The Times, Kemp pledged to run hard on “California” issues, including immigration and Prop. 209, the ballot initiative to end affirmative action programs in government–two issues that have divided him from his party in the past. Kemp plans to spend seven of the remaining 14 days of the campaign in the state.

Kemp recalled that when he joined the ticket, he told Dole that “I could not run only on” the affirmative action issue. “I would not because, to me, there’s too many people hurting, too many people left behind without housing, without jobs, without educational opportunity, for me just to say that race-based affirmative action is wrong,” Kemp said.

The GOP’s position on the issue is for “a positive affirmative action” based on increasing opportunity through tax cuts that will lead to an economic boom for all citizens, including minorities and residents of urban areas, he insisted.

He protested Democratic arguments that the Republican ticket is exploiting divisive issues. “Bob Dole and Jack Kemp are not haters. There’s nothing about Dole’s record, nothing about mine, that could possible point to such a demagogic comment by either Bill Clinton or Al Gore,” Kemp said.

Defense Downsizing

In addition to affirmative action and immigration, the Republican campaign plans to continue arguing that Clinton has mismanaged the defense industry, which has dramatically downsized in the post-Cold War era.

“Bill Clinton comes to California and he drops a [B-2] bomber down like it’s a favor from Washington,” said Wayne Berman, Kemp’s campaign manager. But left unattended was the “significant unemployment” resulting from misdirected federal programs, Berman argued.

To oversee the final effort, Dole will be assembling a revamped team in the state. Veteran Republican strategist Ken Khachigian–whose lobbying was critical to Dole’s decision to escalate his efforts in the state–will remain in charge of Dole’s day-to-day California operations with overall responsibility for the state, Dole’s communications director, John Buckley, said.

But the campaign will send two additional strategists to California–Fred Maas and David Carney, now senior operatives in Kemp’s campaign. Carney and Maas will have authority over “resource allocation and scheduling,” officials said.

In addition, “before this thing is over, you could see other people from headquarters on the red eye to help out in California,” Buckley said. Another official said that veteran Republican strategists Charles Black and John Sears will be deputized to help sharpen the campaign’s message in the state.

GOP Base at Stake

Even as he tries to increase the pressure on Clinton in California, Dole has been forced in the last several days to divert resources toward defending his own base–including states his campaign expected to be safely in his corner long ago.

In South Carolina, one of the most dependably Republican states in the nation, the Republicans’ own tracking polls show Dole running three points behind Clinton. Dole has begun running advertisements on Christian radio stations in North and South Carolina. He is also advertising on television in Indiana–a state Democrats have carried only once in 60 years. Private Democratic polls show Clinton ahead there, though Republicans claim their surveys show Dole still leading.

Dole’s travel schedule also reflects his dilemma. Last weekend, he visited Virginia (where he has also purchased advertising) and New Hampshire, two ordinarily Republican states where he still trails–badly in the case of New Hampshire.

This week, both he and Clinton are scheduled to visit Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. Even more striking, Dole plans to campaign in Texas–a state where the president’s unpopularity may have hit its national nadir in 1994.

If Dole’s travels reflect an increased focus on his base, so does his message. Dole now flags a series of conservative hot-button issues aimed precisely at core Republican constituencies.

“It’s part of a very clear strategy to energize what is known as the ‘leave us alone’ conservative coalition, which was so instrumental in 1994,” said Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

In a midafternoon stop Monday in Chelsea, Mich., for instance, Dole called for constitutional amendments to permit voluntary school prayer and to ban flag-burning–issues he rarely mentioned before last week’s second debate with Clinton.

To some observers, even Dole’s intensified criticism of Clinton’s ethical record represents an effort to excite a conservative base that passionately distrusts the president.

A Losing Echo

In this sharpening ideological message, some Republicans hear another echo of the losing Democratic efforts during the 1980s–particularly Dukakis’ turn toward more liberal economic populism in the last days of the 1988 campaign.

Dukakis still fell short against George Bush, but his late turn to the left cut down Democratic defections, holding his defeat to about seven percentage points.

One GOP consultant said that Dole seems to be emulating that approach. By narrowing both his message and his itinerary, this Republican argued, Dole appears to have shifted his emphasis toward consolidating the Republican base and avoiding a blowout defeat that could cost Republicans control of Congress–even if that approach reduces his odds of converting swing voters and actually overtaking Clinton.

Buckley agreed that the campaign is increasing its efforts to reach Republican base voters. But he added, “I completely reject” the thesis that Dole, in effect, is now playing to avoid a one-sided defeat.

“We have to maximize our Republican vote in order to win,” he said. “George Bush lost in 1992 in part because we didn’t have enough of a Republican vote and a turnout among the base for him.”

Brownstein reported from Michigan and Martinez from San Diego. Times staff writer Dave Lesher in Sacramento contributed to this story.

* PROP. 209 CAMPAIGN: State GOP plans major TV ad buy for Prop. 209. A20

More to Read

Related Posts

This will close in 0 seconds