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Kemp Bows Out as GOP Presidential Candidate : Politics: A conservatives’ favorite, he cites lack of passion for the immense fund-raising and organization required of a modern campaign.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Former Cabinet Secretary Jack Kemp, once projected as a potential front-runner in the 1996 Republican presidential race, announced Monday that he would not seek the nomination.

In a voice frequently plaintive and sometimes pained, Kemp told reporters he had no stomach for the immense fund-raising and organizational requirements of a modern presidential campaign. “My passion for ideas is not matched with a passion for partisan or electoral politics,” Kemp said.

Kemp’s decision was not a surprise: For weeks he had frustrated his supporters by not taking any steps to prepare for the race. On Monday, he said he had “gone back and forth” on whether to run but finally could not muster the enthusiasm for “the organization . . . the phone calls . . . and all the machinations that today are required.”

Kemp’s withdrawal reinforced the odd early dynamic of the 1996 Republican race: Even as the party’s prospects for regaining the White House appear to be brightening, the field of contenders for its presidential nomination continues to shrink.

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Kemp, 59, joined former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and former Education Secretary William J. Bennett in formally withdrawing from the race.

These decisions have left the GOP with a potentially narrow field. Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander plan to formally announce their candidacies next month; Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and former Vice President Dan Quayle have said they intend to join them this spring. Moderate Sen. Arlen Specter and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan are also considering the race. The intentions of several governors, including California’s Pete Wilson, remain uncertain.

Kemp has been a favorite of conservatives throughout his political career. The former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills sponsored the original supply-side tax cuts as a Republican congressman from Buffalo. He ran unsuccessfully for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination and later served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George Bush. But in recent months many party insiders--and even Kemp himself--questioned whether his unique blend of tax-cutting fervor and compassion for the poor had drifted out of tune with the party’s hardening anti-government message.

For years, Kemp has urged the GOP to make greater overtures toward minorities. He publicly complained recently that the party focus on cutting welfare benefits and lengthening jail sentences is too narrow a message and urged Republicans to focus more on expanding economic opportunity in the cities.

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With Bennett, Kemp ignited a furor in conservative circles last fall when he denounced Proposition 187, the California ballot initiative championed by Wilson. The ballot measure, which was passed by the electorate, would deny education and other government benefits to illegal immigrants. It is now being challenged in the courts.

Kemp’s decision underscored the extent to which the compression of the 1996 GOP primary calendar is changing the dynamic of the race. With so many states squeezing their presidential primaries and caucuses into February and March of next year, the GOP presidential candidates commonly assume that they will have to raise as much as $25 million this year to compete. Like Cheney before him, Kemp cited that enormous fund-raising pressure as a principal reason for his decision to remain on the sidelines.

“You can’t run in 1996 unless you have started (raising money) at least by now,” Kemp said. “And fund-raising many times overshadows the ideas.”

Kemp’s departure could clear more space for Gramm and Alexander--two candidates who are not as well-known nationally but who have organized support aggressively.

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In the meantime, Kemp said he would continue to speak out on issues from his positions at Empower America and the Heritage Foundation, two conservative think-tanks in Washington.


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