Dole Tour Steers Clear of Affirmative Action Issue


Despite suggestions from the candidate himself and from his aides, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole barnstormed California this week without publicly raising a burning issue facing the state’s voters: affirmative action.

Dole has endorsed the initiative on California’s November ballot that seeks to end affirmative action programs in state government. But he has avoided discussing the subject in his public speeches--both during this campaign swing and in his last tour of the state--leading to criticism from conservative supporters who worry that he is backing away from the issue as part of a strategic shift toward the political center.

Dole has repeated his position when asked by reporters.

“I support the California Civil Rights Initiative--always have,” he said in a television interview Monday in Sacramento. “I’m the candidate. I’m going to tell people what I’m for and what I’m against.”


Nonetheless, he has conspicuously left the subject out of his campaign events, which during this swing through the state covered a diversity of other topics, including immigration, defense spending, foreign trade, agriculture, the environment and economic policy.

California Republicans have portrayed the ballot initiative as an enormously popular issue with the potential to boost GOP candidates the same way Proposition 187--the anti-illegal-immigration measure--did for Gov. Pete Wilson’s reelection in 1994.

But Dole strategists have recently questioned that analysis of the affirmative action measure, suggesting that the campaign might wait to determine how much it will embrace the issue.

A Republican official insisted that Dole had raised the issue in one speech--an event Wednesday morning in Orange County. But that event, a $5,000-per-plate fund-raising breakfast, was closed to the press and public.

Lyn Nofziger, a former Dole advisor who recently wrote a letter urging the candidate to emphasize his stand on affirmative action, said he remains patient.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for him to campaign on it every time he goes out there,” Nofziger said. “I would be concerned if he said anything that indicated he wanted to modify his stand. But if he didn’t do that, I think we need to give him a little time here.”