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Dole Opens Third Presidential Campaign in Topeka, Kansas

By Dan Balz
The Washington Post
EXETER, N.H.

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., opened his third campaign for president Monday vowing to reduce the power of the federal government, and as a symbol of his conservative commitment, he signed the anti-tax pledge he rejected in his 1988 campaign.

Dole's decision to sign the tax pledge was the clearest sign that his issue agenda in the 1996 campaign will reflect the rightward shifts within a Republican Party that was swept into power last November.

"Let me make one fundamental belief crystal clear," Dole said. "We can cut taxes and balance the budget."

Dole's message Monday also emphasized that his record as a war hero and his 35 years in politics give him experience unique among the field of candidates. "I have been tested and tested and tested in many, many ways," he said. "I am not afraid to lead and I know the way."

Dole described President Clinton as "a clever apologist for the status quo," an opponent of the dramatic changes wrought by last November's Republican landslide. "We need a president who shares our values, embraces our agenda and who will lead the fight for the fundamental change America chose last November," Dole said.

Dole made his formal announcement in Topeka, Kan., his home state, and then traveled to New Hampshire, where his staff handed out the tax pledge that was signed in his Senate office last Friday.

It is virtually the same document that Dole refused to sign during a debate in New Hampshire two days before the primary in 1988 that he lost to George Bush. The pledge says Dole will oppose any increase in income tax rates and will fight any elimination of deductions or credits unless rates are reduced further.

Dole never mentioned the document in either appearance Monday, but campaign manager Scott Reed said the candidate was willing to sign it this year because Republicans, not Democrats, control the Congress. "In 1988, the issue was based on Democrats controlling Congress," he said.

Only Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, has signed the same pledge, according to Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, which distributes the pledge to candidates.

But it was a measure of how far Dole is willing to go this year to win a prize that has eluded him in two earlier campaigns.

Dole begins his latest campaign for the Republican nomination as the clear leader in the early polls, and from the multi-car motorcade to the chartered airplane dubbed the "The Leader's Ship," he appeared anxious to assume the mantle of the front-runner.

Although Dole touted his experience, he has faced questions about his age - he'll be 73 by the time of the election and underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 1991. He must also convince voters that a Washington insider can lead the new Republican Party that came to power last November and that he has a clear vision of what he would do as president. Monday's speech - and the surprise release of the tax pledge - were intended to begin that process.

"My mandate as president would be to rein in the federal government in order to set free the spirit of the American people," Dole said, "to reconnect our government in Washington with the common sense values of our citizens and to reassert American interests wherever and whenever they are challenged around the world."

The man who has served in Washington since he was first elected to Congress in 1960 said his road map as president would be the Tenth Amendment, the last item in the Bill of Rights, which reserves to the states and the people all powers not delegated to the federal government.

Dole denounced the federal government and its leaders as intrusive and out of touch. Noting that Washington's role grew as it fought the Great Depression and global war, he said, "The lifejacket of one generation can become the straightjacket of the next."

He called Washington "too large, too remote, too unresponsive and too undemocratic to be representative." And he accused the country's leaders of growing "too isolated" from places like Topeka and Exeter and said they were "embarrassed by the values here."

Dole said he would begin to restore the balance between Washington and the states by winning passage of the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and by eliminating four federal agencies: Education, Energy, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development - which he branded "ineffective, burdensome and meddlesome.