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GOP Nominee Says Trust The Fundamental Issue

Dole speaking

SAN DIEGO (AllPolitics, Aug. 15) -- In the most important speech of his political life, Republican nominee Robert Dole offered himself to the nation as a man "tested by adversity, made sensitive by hardship, a fighter by principle, and the most optimistic man in America." (320K WAV sound)

Dole told a cheering throng of 20,000 GOP delegates, officials and guests that the the fundamental issue in the fall election isn't the economy or the intricacies of public policy, but simply trust.

"For too long, we have had a leadership that has been unwilling to risk the truth, to speak without calculation, to sacrifice itself, an administration that in its very existence communicates this day by day until it flows down like rain," Dole said.

Dole spoke forcefully, emphatically and eloquently. Nearly 40 times the crowd interrupted him with applause. He downplayed his years as a Capitol Hill lawmaker, instead emphasizing his early years, his core values and his "unlimited confidence in the wisdom of our people and the future of our country."

the Doles

But it's not yet clear whether the speech will be a springboard to a reinvogorated campaign. What is clear, however, is that Dole delivered a speech that opened a window into his soul, which will help fill in the blanks of his Beltway persona. He also avoided the lackluster delivery that has plagued him before, most notably during his flat response to Bill Clinton's State of the Union address.

Dole appealed to voters to support him "so that I may bring you an administration that is able, honest and trusts in you." And he brushed aside public opinion surveys that show him lagging behind President Bill Clinton.

"The election will not be decided by the polls, by the opinion-makers, or the pundits," Dole declared, talking directly to the national TV audience. "It will be decided by you. It will decided by you."

Dole, who began working on his acceptance speech in April after nailing down the Republican nomination with a resounding string of primary wins, added his own voice to the four-day convention's moderate, centrist tone.

The Republican Party, he said, "represents many streams of opinion and many points of view."

"But if there is anyone who has mistakenly attached himself to the party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion," Dole said, "then let me remind you:

Dole at the podium

"Tonight this hall belongs belongs to the party of Lincoln, and the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground, without compromise," he said.

Dole, 73, dealt with the question of his age early in his 40-minute talk, saying his perspective has been strengthened by "the gracious compensations of age."

"Now I know that in some quarters I may be expected to run from the truth of this," Dole said. "But I was born in 1923, facts are better than dreams, and good presidents and good candidates don't run from the truth."

Age, he said, has its advantages. "Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action," Dole said. "To those who say it was never so, that American has not been better, I say, you're wrong, and I know, because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember."

Dole had particularly strong words about the nation's spotty track record in public education. He laid most of the blame for poor achievement at the feet the teacher unions, which he said have a vested interest in the status quo.

"I say this not to the teachers, but to their unions: If education were a war, you would be losing it," Dole said. "If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy. If it were a patient, it would be dying."

Dole even took a joking swipe at Clinton's attempts to blur the distinctions between Republican and Democrats. To laughter, he said, Clinton "has of late tried to be a good Republican; I expected him here tonight."

[Balloons at the GOP convention]

Dole also hit hard on the issue of crime.

"We are a nation paralyzed by crime, and it is time to end that in America," he said. "To do so, I mean to attack the root cause of crime -- criminals. As our many and voracious criminals go to bed tonight, at, say, six in the morning, they had better pray that I lose this election. Because, if I win, the lives of violent criminals are going to be hell."

Dole dismissed the Clinton team's single-minded emphasis on the economy in the 1992 campaign. "All things do not flow from wealth or poverty," he said. "I know this first hand, and so do you. All things flow from doing what is right." (263K WAV sound)

But he also devoted a major portion of his speech to boosting his plan for a 15-percent across-the-board tax-rate cut and $500 a child tax credits.

He ripped the Clinton Administration for believing it knows better how spend what people earn than they do themselves.

"It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton Administration a corps of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered, and never learned, should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes," Dole said. (227K WAV sound)

"I trust the American people to work in the best interest of the people. And I believe that every family, wage earner and small business can do better -- if only we have the right policies in Washington."

The plan's features, Dole said, include tax cuts, a balanced federal budget by 2002 and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which would be sent to the states for ratification. (401K WAV sound)

[Dole and Kemp]

"Working with Jack Kemp and a Republican Congress, I will not be satisifed until we have reformed our entire tax code, and made it fairer and flatter and simpler for the American people," he said.

Dole also criticized the Clinton Administration for not putting enough enough money into the nation's defense and lagging on a missile defense system. "I believe President Clinton has failed to adequately provide for our future defense," he said. "For whatever reason his neglect, it is irresponsible."

No single speech makes or breaks a campaign, but tonight's address -- drafted in part by speechwriter Mark Helprin -- was vital for Dole.

It's the second of three factors that shape a challenger's campaign -- first, the choice of a running mate, then the acceptance speech and, finally, in late September and October, the presidential debates.

Before the speech, delegates saw a seven-minute video about Dole's early days in Russell, Kan., including comments from friends, former Senate colleagues and wife Elizabeth.

In the hall before the speech, delegates, alternates and guests, awaited it with eager anticipation.

"He's a leader...And I think he will put forth a lot of ideas which will be leadership ideas," said Martha Harlan, an alternate delegate from Auburn, Ala., who is attending her sixth convention.

"I hope some of his sense of humor comes through. I heard him at lunch today just for a minute...and he was so cute, he really was," Harlan said. "Just like President Reagan had that marvelous sense of humor...I think Dole has the same qualities. I think he's held them in check and I'm sorry that he has held them in check."

Another alternate delegate, Gail Wood of Paris, Mo., hoped for a forceful speech. "If he sticks to his principles and the things he has said in the past that he wants, I think he'll do very well," Wood said. "I just think he's a real fine man. He's been through a lot and he's persevered."

-- By Craig Staats

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