Dole Snubbed; Makes Move For South – WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON — Suddenly handed the campaign spotlight, Ross Perot on Thursday rejected Bob Dole’s entreaty to quit the presidential race and said he was in “to the bitter end.” Republicans and Democrats alike labeled Dole’s move a desperate gambit.
Perot told reporters he would not discuss details of his Wednesday meeting with Dole campaign manager Scott Reed, calling the session “weird and totally inconsequential.”

Perot, in Washington for a National Press Club speech, delivered a scathing indictment of President Clinton’s ethics and said Dole and the Republicans also had abused the campaign finance system and traded favors for contributions.

“If you want this corruption stopped, vote for the Reform Party in 1996,” Perot said. Later, he added, “Am I in this for the long haul? Yes. Do I intend to campaign to the bitter end? Yes.”

Dole authorized Reed’s overture to Perot after a week of internal campaign debate over whether there was any way to shake Clinton’s lead in national and critical state polls. But the GOP nominee was described by aides as furious that word had leaked of what was supposed to be a secret mission.

“A drowning man will grab onto any log,” said Texas Reform Party director Bill Walker. White House press secretary Mike McCurry, asked the administration’s reaction, responded, “Mystification.”

Campaigning in Florida, Dole admitted he was frustrated by the polls and said testily: “Wake up America! You’re about to do yourselves an injustice if you vote for Bill Clinton. … If you want to see this country go down the hill in the next four years, you vote for Bill Clinton.” <> But it was Perot who held the campaign’s center stage for a day, even though he is mired in single digits in the national polls four years after finishing third with 19 percent of the vote.

Dole aides labored to put the best face on an embarrassing turn of events.

“We don’t need the Reform Party _ we’ve got one in Bob Dole,” said GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

Publicly, GOP leaders supported Dole’s move _ but were also quick to say they knew nothing about it in advance. “There’s one thing that’s clear: A vote for Perot is a vote for Clinton,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.

Privately, many GOP operatives labeled the entreaty the latest in a string of Dole campaign missteps and said that by allowing Perot to seize the spotlight, Dole had cost himself precious attention and given Perot some legitimacy in the campaign’s final 10 days. Strategists in both parties suggested Perot could gain a few points as a result of the media attention and his blistering attacks on the political system.

“Ross Perot this year has not been a formidable candidate in the race, so I’m not sure that his endorsement or support would swing the election,” said Texas GOP Chairman Tom Pauken. Asked if the overture was a sign of desperation on Dole’s part, Pauken called it a “realistic assessment that something has to be done nationally if Bob Dole is going to get over the top.”

Republican pollster Ed Goeas said his surveys showed Dole trailing by 10 points nationally, a smaller margin than most polling by media organizations. Still, Goeas said Clinton appeared headed to victory.

“Dole would have to have a better campaign than Clinton from here to the finish, not an equal campaign, and they have not shown that capability,” Goeas said.

Clinton moved to consolidate that campaign edge today in Birmingham, where the President sought to break the back of Republican Bob Dole’s campaign in one of the few regions that has shown promise for Dole.

The Clinton campaign said it was mystified by Dole’s appeal to thrid party candidate Ross Perot to drop out of the race. ”There’s no reason to believe that that would be a useful initiative,” said White House Spokesman Mike McCurry.

Clinton visited Alabama for the first time as president in a two-day swing that also takes him to Louisiana and Georgia. Alabama has not gone to a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976 when Jimmy Carter, also a Southerner, won it.

Clinton, appearing on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College, said the size of the crowd — estimated by some at 20,000 or more — indicated that Alabama wanted to help him ”build a bridge to the future.”

“It is such a beautiful day and the crowd is so large, maybe Alabama is going to come along with me on that bridge,” he said.

Dole holds a narrow lead over Clinton in Alabama.

The president’s re-election machine does not want to cede anything to Dole, even though Clinton has landslide-type leads in the race for 270 electoral votes and victory November 5.

At the least, Clinton’s visit forced Dole to spend some time and resources here buttressing his support. Dole was visiting Alabama and Louisiana Thursday.

“In order for Bob Dole to get to 270 electoral votes, he has to sweep the South. We’re not going to let him,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart.

The South has grown more conservative over the years and did not rally behind Clinton in his 1992 campaign.

“This is not a question of who’s bad, it’s a question of what’s right for our future,” he said, outlining differences between him and Dole on education and fighting crime.

At Birmingham-Southern, the first college to voluntarily integrate in the 1960s, Clinton gave a boost to the uphill campaign of Alabama’s Democratic candidate for Senate, Roger Bedford, against Republican Jeff Sessions, in the race for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Howell Heflin.

Clinton has embraced many Democratic candidates for Congress amid much talk in Washington on whether his coattails will be long enough to restore Democrats to control of Congress after a two-year hiatus.

The theory is that Republican will eventually distance themselves from Dole to warn voters that if they are going to re-elect Clinton, they should keep Republicans in control of Congress to maintain a balance of power in Washington.

Heflin, in his Alabama drawal, addressed that issue in a warmup speech for Clinton. “I hope people will vote the straight Democratic ticket,” he said, denouncing Republicans as “far-right pachyderms.”

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