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Now Official, Nominees Hit Campaign Trail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taking sharp aim at opponent Bill Clinton and vowing to “compete and fight for every vote in this country,” Republican candidate Bob Dole kicked off the fall campaign Friday with a boisterous rally and a biting tone perhaps foreshadowing a fierce fight ahead.

“I would say to our opponent, this is the kickoff,” a tanned and exuberant Dole told several thousand supporters here in the heart of Republican California. “Our convention’s over. Their convention’s over. We’re in very fertile ground here. . . .

“Welcome to this retirement party for Bill Clinton.”

Dole himself did not allude to the sex scandal involving former Clinton campaign advisor Dick Morris, but then he didn’t have to. His warmup acts--a raft of state and local partisans--did a fine job of slamming the administration on Dole’s behalf.

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“Dick Morris has gone on to seek other career opportunities,” said Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter Buffa, referring to Morris’ resignation Thursday after reports of a yearlong relationship with a prostitute. “We’re not sure yet if he was just caught somewhere with someone he shouldn’t have been with, or if he was doing advance work for the president.”

Afterward, Kenneth L. Khachigian, Dole’s senior California strategist, was quick to disavow comments about the Morris scandal, which swirled around the Democratic Party at what should have been the peak of a flawless convention. “Nobody asked Pete Buffa to say that,” Khachigian said. “He was on his own.”

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John Herrington, Republican Party chairman for California, took a more subtle approach. “The president is in a little bit of trouble,” Herrington said. “But we can’t rest on our laurels.”

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Clinton likely cannot win reelection without the state’s 54 electoral votes, and Dole came to Orange County on Friday to reiterate his pledge to fight for this most populous state and to make Clinton spend precious campaign dollars to defend what was handed to him without a whimper in 1992.

A contested California is the Democratic Party’s “worst nightmare,” Khachigian said. “They’re nervous as cats . . . . They don’t know how to campaign in Orange County. They never have. They’re too liberal.”

For Dole to take the Golden State, where he trails by double digits in the polls, he needs a margin of victory in Orange County of at least 250,000 to 300,000 votes, Herrington said, to offset Clinton’s strength in the state’s more liberal strongholds like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The candidate himself set the Orange County stakes higher Friday. “I told your chairman last night,” he joked to the crowd, “that we would settle for a margin in Orange County of, say, 425,000 votes.”

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Clinton “may win in other parts of California,” said Gov. Pete Wilson while introducing Dole, “but Orange County will carry California for Dole-Kemp. . . . This is the county that has had the proud history in every winning Republican election of delivering the vote that has made the difference.”

At the early morning rally under an already hot sun, supporters waved signs ranging from the wishful “Dole’s Cool” through the edgy-but-topical “Clinton’s Family Values? Ask Dick Morris.” And then there was “Only a Village Idiot Doesn’t Trust Families,” a jab at First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s best-selling book about raising children in the 20th century, entitled “It Takes a Village.”

In a continuing theme on the campaign trail, the crowd didn’t take the only potshots at Clinton’s controversial wife. Dole has made veiled jabs in the past, and on Friday Wilson took his turn. “We get a terrific bargain,” he said as the crowd chanted “No more Hillary!” “Not only do we get both Doles and both Kemps, we get rid of both Clintons.”

The Dole campaign released a letter Friday inviting its Clinton counterparts to meet with Dole campaign manager Scott Reed to discuss particulars of the televised debates.

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“Next week, a small group of representatives from each of our campaigns should meet to address participants, format, timing and logistical issues surrounding the debates,” Reed wrote to Clinton advisor Peter Knight.

Tentative dates for the debates are Sept. 25, Oct. 9 and Oct. 16. The vice presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 2.

Friday’s rally in Orange County was a sort-of rehearsal for the traditional Labor Day election season kickoff. It was as much about the Democratic convention in Chicago, which ended Thursday, as it was about the Republican candidate and his garrulous running mate, Jack Kemp.

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The first words out of Dole’s mouth Friday were about his opponent, and the gist of both his address and Kemp’s was answers to Clinton’s policy-filled, 67-minute acceptance speech the night before.

“The message at their convention is that government knows best,” Dole said. “The message at our convention is that the people know best.”

He went on to say “Jack Kemp and I believe our best days are still ahead in America, and they’re not sure. They were on the ‘Status Quo Express’ all week. That train went around, and every time he stopped that train dropped a couple of million of your dollars,” Dole said, referring to Clinton’s campaign-promise-filled ride aboard the “21st Century Express” from West Virginia to the Chicago area.

In their last joint appearance until Monday, the Republican twosome also took the opportunity to lay out familiar campaign themes, such as the need for a more serious fight against drugs and a detailed economic program with a 15% across-the-board tax rate cut at its core.

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That cut particularly resonated with Cindi Schuster, 45, of Anaheim, a strong Dole supporter. “It was great. I agreed with everything they said,” said Schuster, who has a daughter in college and could use a tax cut to pay those expenses.

Dole continued to push his economic plan at the bunting-draped New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque, where he called his two-rally Friday “the first day of our campaign to go to the White House.”

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Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday was filled with “a million little plans of how to spend your money,” Dole said above the shrill hum of cicadas. Dole’s own plan, in contrast, has “one big plan for America: Let’s give American families back more of their hard-earned money, because we believe the people can run their own lives better than any government agency or government bureaucracy.”

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In both cities, Dole faulted the Clinton administration for what he claimed was the Democrat’s surrender in the war on drugs. Comparing Clinton’s efforts unfavorably with the “Just Say No” policies touted by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Dole argued: “Clinton says, ‘Just say nothing,’ and nothing is what we’ve heard.”

If elected, Dole said he would use the National Guard to stop drugs from entering the United States, a plan he promises to outline Sunday when he addresses the National Guard Assn. in Washington. Kemp, who will campaign in Phoenix today, plans to return to California Sunday for opening day of the football season, “when the 49ers beat the Saints” in San Francisco.

Times staff writers Binh Hong and Peter Warren contributed to this story.


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