Kansas Sen. Bob Dole Wednesday accused Republican presidential rival Rep. Jack Kemp of "preying on the elderly" by sending out campaign literature attacking Dole in a plain brown envelope that resembles official mail from the Social Security Administration.
The mailer from the New York congressman, reportedly sent to 120,000 Iowans, assails both Dole and Vice President George Bush for voting in 1985 to freeze Social Security cost-of-living increases. Bush, as vice president, broke a 49-49 tie in the Senate that year, voting for a budget package that included the freeze. The House of Representatives later reinstated the hike.
A Kemp spokesman said the mailers were sent last week to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states with the most-publicized early votes. Campaign Press Secretary John Buckley declined to say how many of the documents were mailed, but hinted that they were targeted at older voters.
"It's fair to say there should not be a Republican primary voter older than 45 who doesn't have the message now that George Bush and Bob Dole voted against future Social Security increases," Buckley said.
Buckley defended the ads as fair representations of Bush's and Dole's records.
"It's only negative if they think their record is negative," Buckley said.
Kemp's message, which is also being televised here, provoked a spirited rebuttal from Dole, who is trying to present himself as a Republican who cares about needy people, including elderly Social Security recipients.
At a half-dozen campaign stops on Wednesday, Dole held up one of the brown envelopes as he launched into a critique of Kemp's position on Social Security and the economy in general.
"I want the people of Iowa to know that Jack Kemp voted against the Social Security rescue package," Dole said in reference to 1983 legislation that he supported and that added $165 billion to the Social Security trust fund.
Dole said that the Kemp mailer was deceptive, contained as it is in a brown envelope that reads "Important Social Security information is enclosed."
"It doesn't have his name on the outside. It doesn't say 'Paid for by Jack Kemp,' " Dole said.
People are likely to open it, said Dole, and exclaim: " 'Jiminy, Bob Dole is trying to hurt me.' But I'm not going to hurt anyone," he said.
"If Jack Kemp had his way, this envelope would be empty. There wouldn't have been any checks for Social Security."
Dole argued that his vote to freeze Social Security cost-of-living increases was a move intended to bring down the deficit--a goal that tops his current campaign agenda.
But Dole said the vote on the freeze did nothing to alter basic Social Security benefits.
Dole maintains that his 1985 vote is a sign of his ability to make hard decisions that may be temporarily unpopular, but in the long run beneficial to the economy.
Dole has been consistently critical of Kemp for his position on the deficit. Kemp believes that with the proper incentives for growth, such as low taxes and a more stable currency, the economy will outgrow the deficit.
Cathleen Decker contributed to this story from New Hampshire.