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Oratorical Surrogates Stand In for Dole

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In seeking to oust Bill Clinton this fall, Republican leaders are drawing inspiration from the past: the presidential election of 1896, to be precise.

And the lessons from that long-ago campaign--as divined by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and party chairman Haley Barbour--have been plainly on display during a string of Dole campaign appearances this week and last.

Dole, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, is an admittedly lackluster campaigner compared to Clinton, who is a polished orator. So the GOP troika and its top advisors are scripting a coordinated effort in which there is one central message but many voices--surrogates speaking in Dole’s behalf.

Thus it was that Dole left most of the talking to his wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, and North Carolina’s two GOP senators at a rally here that kicked off the campaigning.

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Since then, numerous surrogates have been trotted out, including former President George Bush, Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas J. Ridge, House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a onetime Dole rival for the GOP nomination.

On Tuesday, Bush visited Capitol Hill and ate breakfast with Dole in his Senate office. Afterward, Bush declared his “unqualified support” for Dole. Praising Dole’s “mature, strong, knowledgeable leadership,” the former president went on to say that Dole, as president, would “help the standing of the United States around the world.”

The Dole campaign intends to rely increasingly on such GOP luminaries to laud Dole and attack Clinton.

“We have a great farm team and you can expect to see a lot of surrogate work,” said Nelson Warfield, Dole’s campaign spokesman.

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“It’s going to take a team effort to beat Clinton,” added Tony Blankley, a top Gingrich aide. “Newt has believed for a long time in the efficacy of a coordinated, national campaign.”

A history buff, Gingrich some months ago began recalling the 1896 campaign, which took place two years after mid-term elections that gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress. Like this year, the election of 100 years ago pitted candidates who were a study in contrasts.

William McKinley was an older GOP stalwart. In part because he was such an uninspiring speaker, some 1,400 surrogates stumped on his behalf while he remained at home in Ohio, greeting well-wishers from his front porch.

His Democratic opponent was William Jennings Bryan, a young and fiery prairie populist who crisscrossed the nation, often delivering five or six speeches a day and waging the most energetic presidential campaign in U.S. history up to then. But with the help of a united party, McKinley won.

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The first full viewing of the current GOP campaign-by-committee was provided at Dole’s North Carolina stop by Sens. Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, who focused on two GOP buzzwords for the fall: character and courage.

“This will be a referendum on character and Bob Dole will win in a walk,” Helms said. “Bob Dole has paid his dues to his country.”

That allusion to Dole’s World War II service, which ended with a crippling injury, produced a thunderous ovation from the 2,000 Dole supporters packed into the gymnasium of Catawba College.

Faircloth quickly piled on, saying the 72-year-old Dole “was demonstrating courage when Bill Clinton couldn’t spell it . . . I’m not real sure he can now.”

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Still, it was Elizabeth Dole who stole the show amid an adoring hometown crowd, delivering a virtuoso performance that served notice she will be an unsurpassed surrogate for her husband.

With a microphone clipped to a lapel, she left the stage and began working the crowd like an experienced talk-show hostess. Hitting all the big issues, she managed to introduce her 94-year-old mother, Mary C. Hanford, and greet a host of volunteers and high school classmates--all by name, of course.

“This is a defining moment,” she said. “This election . . . is about the character of our country as we move into the next century. The vision and values that will shape America.

“And it is also about the character of the person who will lead us there. His word is good. That’s the point I’m trying to make. Bob Dole has integrity,” she said.

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Later in the week, in Dallas, Armey offered this colorful comparison of Clinton and Dole’s personalities, drawing on the entertainment world. “You have Tony Randall on one side, emoting over everything . . . bouncing around, being lively and making a lot of noise,” Armey said. “On the other side, sitting there very calmly, very clearly aware of what to do, you are going to see Gary Cooper.”

To be sure, Dole is hardly content to let others do all the talking, as he demonstrated this week in Pennsylvania.

Mocking Clinton for promising a middle-class tax cut only to raise taxes and for vowing to enact welfare reform only to back off, Dole told a rally in Pittsburgh: “Being president isn’t just about talking; it’s about doing.” Clinton, Dole said, “is good with the rhetoric, not very good with the actions.”

Times staff writer Gebe Martinez contributed to this story.

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