_ Looking for an energetic partner to reshape the presidential race, Bob Dole tapped former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp Friday night for the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket, campaign sources said. Kemp eagerly accepted, sealing an improbable political alliance.
``Quarterbacks are always ready,'' Kemp said earlier in the day.
Dole placed the call from his family home in Russell, Kan., concluding the deal shortly after 11 p.m. EDT after asking Kemp several final questions and discussing his role in the fall campaign. Kemp was in Dallas, where he boarded a plane to Kansas for a late-night meeting with Dole. An official announcement is planned Saturday afternoon.
Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield confirmed Dole had picked a running mate but refused to identify him. ``Bob Dole made the call. Bob Dole got the answer he was looking for. And we've got a veep,'' Warfield said. He said the call lasted 15 minutes, ending at 11:06 p.m.
With the selection, ``The curtain goes up on the drama of taking the White House back from Bill Clinton,'' Warfield said.
The 73-year-old Dole and the 61-year-old Kemp have been rivals _ and antagonists _ for years. They were unsuccessful candidates for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, and both were passed over by George Bush when he was looking to fill the ticket. At the root of most past Dole-Kemp feuds has been economics: Dole is a deficit hawk determined to balance the federal budget; Kemp a supply side apostle who believes deep tax cuts and economic growth should take precedence over balancing the books. Dole's new economic plan bridges both camps, and it was during deliberations over its $548 billion in tax cuts that Kemp emerged as a serious contender.
On hand to greet Kemp in Dallas was Sheila Burke, Dole's former Senate chief of staff, and Roderick DeArment, the attorney who headed the vice presidential background investigations.
Dole joked about keeping his choice a surprise and sneaking his pick into his tiny hometown: ``Hopefully we'll be able to bring whoever it is in through the back door and nobody will notice _ but I doubt it.''
Dole aides prepared for Saturday's rally on the courthouse steps in Russell _ where Dole began his political career as county attorney _ and then a triumphant arrival Sunday in this GOP convention city where Dole-Kemp T-shirts were already on sale and early arrivals were abuzz with talk of whether Kemp could help Dole overcome President Clinton's big lead.
``Jack Kemp is the ideal choice,'' said another finalist in the search, Michigan Gov. John Engler. ``Bob Dole's inspired choice shows that he has the leadership and decision-making ability to energize the Republican Party and lead us to victory in November.''
Noting the many policy differences between Dole and Kemp, Democrats suggested it was a desperate move _ and handed out footballs with this printed slogan: ``Hail Mary Pass.'' But former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat, said Kemp could hurt Democrats with minority voters. ``It's formidable,'' Cuomo said of the Dole-Kemp ticket.
In considering Kemp, Dole put aside years of strained relations and turned to an energetic, though sometimes undisciplined, campaigner who is popular with GOP's conservative base yet is perhaps the party's most vocal advocate of doing more to appeal to racial minorities and inner-city voters.
``We now have a forward-looking, dynamic ticket. It will truly excite the country,'' said Dole primary rival Steve Forbes, the flat-tax advocate who entered the presidential race only after his close friend Kemp declined to run.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaking several hours before the deal was sealed, said: ``If it is Kemp, it's a bold move. Jack Kemp is the most dynamic and emotionally intense advocate of economic growth and of opportunity for every American.''
GOP activists said Kemp could face some heat for opposition to term limits, criticism of tough immigration policies and support of affirmative action. Still, the early reaction was overwhelmingly favorable.
Kemp, 61, served 18 years in Congress representing Buffalo, N.Y., where he ended his professional football career with the Bills. He is a California native, and played for the San Diego Chargers. Kemp served as housing secretary in the Bush administration and since then has been a leader of Empower America, a conservative policy organization. He has traveled widely for speaking engagements to augment his income and also to raise funds at GOP events.
Below Kemp on Dole's list was Florida Sen. Connie Mack, Kemp's good friend from their days serving together in the House. Engler was said to be the third finalist. After Dole arrived in Russell, campaign manager Scott Reed began informing other prospects that they were out of the running, including Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell.
With several new polls showing him trailing Clinton by 15 to 20 points or more, next week's Republican convention is considered critical to any Dole comeback hopes, and the selection of a running mate a major requirement in any comeback bid.
At the outset, Dole said he was looking for a ``10,'' and he joked with reporters Friday that his choice was ``probably an 11.''
At the outset, the search focused on a handful of GOP governors, and then expanded to include three senators. Kemp emerged late, as Dole and advisers looking for a bold pick to energize the GOP convention and convince voters to give the Republican ticket a fresh look.
Dole for years was open in his disdain for the tax-cutting, supply side economics advocated by Kemp and his allies _ including Gingrich and Mack. But as this younger, more aggressive conservative wing has grown in influence, Dole has embraced many of its views.
In his new economic plan, for example, Dole promises to balance the budget by 2002 but also proposes $548 billion in tax cuts, including a 15 percent across the board cut advocated by Kemp and his allies.
Significant disagreements between the two remain, however.
Kemp was a vocal opponent of Proposition 187, a 1994 California ballot initiative allowing the state to deny services to illegal immigrants; Dole supported the proposal. This year, Dole backs a California ballot initiative to repeal state affirmative action programs; Kemp has criticized the proposal on grounds it sends the wrong message to blacks and other racial minorities.
Despite the testy Dole-Kemp relationship, there are several Kemp loyalists in top Dole campaign positions, including Reed, who worked for Kemp's 1988 campaign and later was his top aide at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Another longtime Kemp confidante, Republican operative Charles Black, traveled to Kansas aboard the Dole campaign plane to help with Saturday's vice presidential announcement
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