Washington — When asked whether he would run for governor of New York in 1982, Jack Kemp smiled and said, "Yes and no." The Republican congressman from New York had just delivered what amounted to an hour-long lecture on economic theory according to the Kemp-Roth proposal when he received this question.
Hstart running for governor while in the midst of trying to push the Reagan economic package through Congress. That is where his full attention must be right now, he added.
"But isn't your detailed defense of supply-side economics -- and all the speeches you are making on this subject -- part of your running for governor?" he was asked at the March 11 breakfast meeting with reporters.
Congressman Kemp, whose enthusiastic espousal of his economic theory amounts to an exciting show in itself, laughed and said: "I guess you could say that."
Washington political observers, with few visible exceptions, are either (a) impressed or (b) bemused by this one-time professional football quarterback who they see as having either the (a) courage or (b) audacity to take on Keynesian economics in debate.
The pundits here, many of whom remain supporters of the theories of British economist John Maynard Keynes (despite what some see as their tattering in recent years by stagflation), concede that Kemp has made himself into an expert on the subject of economic policy.
These critics -- who until a few months ago laughed a bit behind Kemp's back when he called for deep tax cuts along with sharp spending reductions -- are no longer laughing.
They see a president who has accepted much of this theory, who was elected in large part simply because of his espousal of this radical economic approach -- popularized in a bill presented to Congress by Kemp and Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R) of Delaware. And they see this president and his economic package being taken seriously by the Congress -- including the Democrats.
Political observers here willingly concede that Jack Kemp is one of the "hotest" politicians in this city and certainly worth listening to.
Kemp himself admits he has reservations about some of the Reagan economic proposals. "They don't go far enough, fast enough," he explains.
But he quickly adds that he fully supports the total Reagan package: "It certainly reflects the views of the supply-side movement."
What if President Reagan draws fire from Congress on either his tax-cut or budget-slashing proposals -- or both? "The President ought to veto anything that doesn't come close to his package," answers Kemp.
When reporters press for a more-specific answer, he adds: "Well, it doesn't have to be 99 percent." "And he should certainly veto any tax legislation that is based on redistribution of income. The voters told us they didn't want a tax cut that is simply based on that old theory."
The crowd of reporters who showed up for this breakfast session were there for more than a dissertation on economics. For the most part, they are giving this energetic, attractive, young politician a "ceiling unlimited" rating on his future.
Although there still may be skeptics among the news media who question his depth of understanding of economic theory, there is a growing respect, even amazement, at the wealth of information Kemp has accumulated on the subject.
Many observers now are saying that should Reagan decide not to run again in 1984, Kemp will likely vie with Vice- President George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination.