McCarthy Punch Line Supplied by Sen. Dole

Times Staff Writer

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Last winter, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas told a running joke about the time his Republican colleague, California Sen. Pete Wilson, was carried into the Senate on a stretcher to cast a vote on Social Security.

No one laughed harder than Wilson’s Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy. And this week, the McCarthy campaign repackaged Dole’s story as a part of a TV ad ridiculing Wilson.

McCarthy’s ad begins with the voice of an anonymous narrator who says, “Bob Dole explains how they got Pete Wilson’s vote to cut Social Security.”


Then, the voice of Dole is heard.

“Sen. Pete Wilson had had an appendectomy that morning. We rolled him in from the hospital. We took him up to the Capitol. He was under heavy sedation. We rolled him in onto the floor. I said, ‘Vote yes.’ He voted ‘yes.’ We rolled him out again. He does better under sedation.”

The ad is over in 30 seconds and says nothing about the background of Dole’s remarks.

McCarthy aides say there is more than good-natured humor in Dole’s comment, that it is a contemptuous aside that shows Wilson is not his own man. But Dale Tate, Dole’s deputy press secretary, dismissed that interpretation Monday, saying that Dole has a close working relationship with Wilson, whom he likes and respects.


Dole has a caustic sense of humor that has worked for and against him over the years.

Last winter, before the Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa, Dole was trying to combat charges that he helped engineer a Senate vote to freeze Social Security cost-of-living increases in 1985.

He used the story about Wilson to argue that it was a tough vote, one that forced his colleagues to make political and personal sacrifices in the interest of reducing the federal budget deficit. Although he joked about it, Dole described Wilson’s difficult trip from the hospital to the Senate as one such sacrifice.

Dole told the anecdote about Wilson many times during the campaign. It was part of a stump speech that invariably drew much laughter and applause as Dole sought to allay concerns that he and his Republican colleagues had set out to punish Social Security recipients. Dole went on to win the Iowa caucuses.

The McCarthy people said their new ad will begin airing this week, although they would not specify air times or places where it can be seen.

Whether they give the new ad wide play--and the McCarthy camp acknowledges that there may be risk in doing that--it is one of the more provocative messages of the campaign. Roy Behr, McCarthy’s director of research, said Monday that the ad is the first in a series of hard shots the campaign plans to take at Wilson’s character during the closing weeks of the race. McCarthy enters that period believing he trails Wilson by 7 to 10 percentage points.

Reacting to news of McCarthy’s planned ad, Wilson’s campaign manager, Otto Bos, described the commercial as “a customary cheap shot from a guy who actually has voted to cut Social Security, and for the people who need it the most--the elderly, blind and disabled.”

Bos was referring to a 1982 budget vote affecting Social Security recipients by McCarthy, who was then a member of the state Legislature.


McCarthy was quoted at the time as saying it was “the most painful vote” he ever cast.