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Among Debating Points, Dole Slips in Several Sharp Zingers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republican challenger Bob Dole did not seem to score a knockout punch against President Clinton during Sunday’s night debate, but he certainly threw out a lot of sharp jabs.

“The president reminds me of my brother Kenny,” Dole said at one point. "[He] was a great talker. We called Kenny “the Great Exaggerator.’ ”

At another point, the former senator asked: “Would you buy a used election promise from my opponent?”

Trailing in the polls, Dole wanted to do more than just have a “debate about ideas,” as both candidates intoned. He also wanted to interject a few zingers along the way, many designed to portray Clinton as a liberal elitist. In the process, Dole displayed for a national audience the dry, acerbic humor that had been his trademark as a Senate leader.

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Perhaps most memorably, he linked Clinton to the Senate’s best-known liberal, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

“Kennedy is a friend of yours . . . one of your liberal friends,” Dole volunteered. “I remember one day on the [Senate] floor, I said, ‘Now, gentlemen, let me tax your memories.’ And Kennedy jumped up and said, ‘Why haven’t we thought of that before?’ ”

Clinton’s start in national politics? He was “the Texas director for George McGovern” in the 1972 campaign, Dole slipped in. Just in case anyone has forgotten, McGovern “was a liberal, a proud liberal,” Dole added.

The president laughed off most of Dole’s lines. “This liberal charge is . . . sort of a golden oldie,” he said. “That’s what their party always drags out when they are in a tight race.”

Clinton got in a few mild jabs of his own, including one about Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), a top Dole campaign official whom Dole put in charge of the Senate Whitewater investigating committee when the Republican nominee was Senate majority leader.

“He’s arranged for me to spend a lot more time with Sen. D’Amato the last couple of years,” Clinton said of Dole.

Twenty years ago, as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Dole was labeled a “hatchet man” for an ill-advised comment about “Democrat wars.” This time, Dole steered clear of bitter personal attacks.

At one point, moderator Jim Lehrer asked Dole directly to describe the “personal differences” between him and the president.

He replied, “Well, my blood pressure is lower. And my weight and my cholesterol. But I will not make health an issue in this campaign.”

When asked to comment on Clinton’s claim that the nation is better off than four years ago, Dole replied: “Well, he’s better off than he was four years ago . . . [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein is probably better off than he was four years ago.”

Dole also described himself and his wife, Elizabeth, as “the only two lawyers in Washington who trust each other.”


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