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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kemp's Campaign Role Fades to Quiet Obscurity

MIAMI -- As the presidential race dwindles down, some people are wondering whatever happened to Jack Kemp.


"They said you came in like a whirlwind,'' a concerned Republican, Alan Manning of Palm Beach, Florida, prefaced a question to Kemp the other day. "And then, suddenly, the wind stopped.''


To many Republicans, Kemp appeared to be the magic elixir that could cure Dole of his political maladies.


A poll taken just after Kemp joined the ticket seemed to confirm that view. It showed Dole within two percentage points of Clinton. He never came that close since.


Today, Dole is running 10 to 15 points behind Clinton, and Kemp is the forgotten man of the race, out of the limelight and, apparently, out of the loop.


By his own description, Kemp was an "outsider'' when Dole attempted the most dramatic stroke of the fall campaign: sending his campaign manager to Dallas last week to ask Reform Party candidate Ross Perot to quit the race. Kemp wasn't informed, much less consulted, in advance. He found out about the meeting through news accounts, after the request had been made, a Kemp aide confirmed.


"People had very high expectations for Kemp because of the immediate excitement of his selection,'' said Jeff Bell, a conservative theorist and longtime Kemp ally. "There were people who oversold the selection in terms of what it would mean to the ticket.''


Recent public opinion surveys underscore how exaggerated those expectations were. More voters now oppose the Dole tax-cut plan than support it. And the refusal of independent voters, especially women, to support Dole is the biggest reason he continues to trail far behind Clinton with only a week to go in the campaign.


As the prospect of defeat grows nearer, the knives are coming out for Kemp. Republican critics are dissecting his performance as a candidate, and friends predict the worse is yet to come.


The vehemence of the criticism has surprised some of those closest to Kemp, including his wife Joanne, his constant companion on the campaign trail.


"Is Rush Limbaugh sniping?'' she interjected during a recent interview with her husband, taken aback to learn that the conservative talk-show host had condemned Kemp's debate performance against Vice President Al Gore ("a disaster,'' Limbaugh called it).


"There are some in the party that think that the purpose of the vice president is just to be, you know, like Spiro Agnew was in '68 or, quote-unquote, an attack dog,'' Kemp said in an interview. He confirmed that top Dole aides have pushed him, unsuccessfully, to be more aggressive, particularly after the campaign shifted its thrust from taxes to assailing Clinton's ethics.


Kemp dismissed Republicans who have criticized his outreach to minorities, including senior Dole aides who forced him to curtail his visits to inner cities.


They "say, 'What a stupid idea it is to go to a black community or into a barrio or a ghetto and tell people that you want to get their votes,'" Kemp said. "I'm not going to challenge their motives, but you have to ask what would motivate somebody to think it unreasonable for a white guy in the Republican Party, which has written off the black vote for so long ... to show that we want to get the votes of everybody from Harlem to the District of Columbia.''