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Dole Sharpens His Criticism Of Affirmative Action Policies

By Maria L. La Ganga
Los Angeles Times

In his strongest endorsement yet of Proposition 209, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole expanded his arguments against affirmative action beyond the crucible of California politics Monday, asserting that the controversial state measure to do away with such programs "represents and applies America's best principles."

Later in the day, at a rally in Orange County, Dole returned to the conservative building blocks upon which he he has formed most of his campaign, pushing his proposal for a 15 percent cut in income tax rates and calling for an end to a controversial late-term abortion procedure. He was flanked by four Congressional Medal of Honor winners as he spoke.

In a further sign of Dole's recent decision to make California the linchpin of his hopes for an upset victory a week from Tuesday, the candidate extended his campaigning in the state for a fourth day. He canceled plans to fly to Denver Monday night and instead scheduled a speech Tuesday morning to the World Affairs Council of Orange County in Irvine.

Dole has used much of his current California swing to detail his disagreements with President Clinton on immigration and affirmative action. Indeed, Dole's Monday remarks in San Diego represented his first fully detailed speech on the issue in 20 months on the campaign trail, as he laid out a 30-minute explanation of how he has changed his own views to now vigorously battle against use of race- and sex-based preferences in government hiring and access to public education.

Navigating a gantlet of Clinton supporters shouting, "Four more years," Dole acknowledged the difficulty of campaigning on the affirmative action issue "because feelings on this issue run high, and it's easy for the demagogues of either side to play on fear or play on resentment. Even as we reject preferences, we must also reject prejudices. Even as we oppose quotas, we must also oppose scapegoating and stereotyping."

Acknowledging his past support for federal affirmative action programs as a senator, Dole said these measures "were supposed to be transitional and temporary." But he said he concluded that this approach "did not work."

He explained his new position by saying: "We cannot fight the evil of discrimination with more discrimination because this leads to an endless cycle of bitterness. We must fight discrimination with equal justice and equal opportunity."

And he told supporters at the San Diego Civic Center that he sees Proposition 209 "as an extension of a commitment I made in 1964, when I voted for the Civil Rights Act." Passage of the initiative, he said, "will elevate individual civil rights above group entitlements."

At his afternoon rally in Anaheim, where he was joined by running mate Jack Kemp and greeted by more than 1,000 ardent supporters gathered in the parking lot of the Arrowhead Pond, Dole indirectly referred to the leads Clinton enjoys over him in various surveys of voters as he admonished the cheering group: "Don't watch all these polls You are the polls, right here. You're the polls."

What Dole did not do in Anaheim was follow up on the carefully crafted defense of Proposition 209 that he delivered in San Diego - a speech that he has waited to give until a time that some California Republicans think may be too late to help his struggling campaign.

Dole's chief strategist in California, Ken Khachigian, insisted that Dole was not a reluctant messenger for the anti-affirmative action measure, which a Los Angeles Times Poll released last week showed is supported by 54 percent of those surveyed in the state.

Khachigian said Dole had waited until the campaign's final days to focus on the issue because the candidate "had a lot of other speeches to give," such as several attacks he has launched on Clinton's character and ethics.

But just a few weeks ago, Kemp publicly had said the campaign intended to steer clear of the affirmative action issue.

Meanwhile, in an interview on CNN broadcast Monday, Dole expressed bewilderment about why the ethical questions he has raised about Clinton do not seem to have undermined the president's lead in the polls.

Also during the day, Dole was asked by reporters to react to recent reports that some Republican leaders have concluded he has no chance of defeating Clinton and are concentrating their efforts on helping the GOP retain control of Congress.

"It's not over," Dole said in the lobby of San Diego's Westgate Hotel. "We're going to be working every day. It can be done."

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This story was published on Tuesday.
Volume 116, Number 54.
This story appeared on page 2.

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