After Bob Dole's dramatic resignation from the US Senate two weeks ago, pundits hailed the emergence of a "new Bob," a man who had shed his lawmaking burdens and now stood ready to revitalize his flagging presidential campaign.
But the man who appeared on the stump this week in California was one part new Bob and one part old. He returned to familiar Republican themes of crime, welfare, and illegal immigration. Yet his lines carried more of an edge, suggesting a more aggressive campaign style.
Appearing Wednesday at a park in the blighted San Diego community of City Heights, Dole the political warrior was in evidence.
"When I become president of the United States, there are going to be two wars declared," Mr. Dole opened his speech. "A war on illegal immigration and a war on drugs."
With a passing reference to the need for empathy for young people drawn into drugs, the former senator from Kansas moved to the assault. "We need to get tough on those who peddle drugs to our children. We need to lock 'em up and lock 'em up and keep them locked up."
While announcing that crime is not a partisan issue, in his next breath Dole blamed the Clinton administration for statistics showing a rise in recent years in some forms of drug use by youth.
"America was winning the war on drugs," Dole said. "Then along came the Clinton-Gore administration."
Dole advisers almost crow about this new aggressive mood to the campaign.
"This is not going to be a softball campaign," Ken Khachigian, the new head of Dole's California campaign, told reporters. After the candidates emerge from the conventions - and Dole is once again flush with spendable cash - President Clinton will face "80 days of hell," he says. The Dole attack on Clinton will be "active, partisan, and intended to throw the other side off balance when we can," Mr. Khachigian vows.
During his California campaign stops, the veteran legislator continued to display a political character that is by now firmly fixed. He relies on a common-sense prairie conservatism, leavened by a compassion that flows directly from his own climb out of the adversity of Depression-era Kansas and his inspiring recovery from war wounds.
But Dole mixes that persona with an instinct for political warfare that emulates, in style and substance, his political mentor, Richard Nixon.
At a park in Redondo Beach, a middle-class community south of Los Angeles, Dole's theme was the struggle against crime, illustrated by the fight of community activists and police to save the park from the scourge of gangs and juvenile crime.
This is the kind of "wedge issue" the Republican Party has been adept at using to mobilize suburban voters, a tactic perfected by Nixon in the late 1960s. California Gov. Pete Wilson, who has demonstrated his own mastery at drawing such political lines, warmed up the crowd with vows to free such communities from "thugs" who should no longer be treated like children by the police and courts.
But Dole took off from that tough talk in a different direction, one that seemed to take its cue more from Kansas than Washington. "Let's face it," Dole said, "some children never have a chance in America. Some children are never loved or never touched after their birth. They're just sort of sent out there. Nobody cares. Nobody looks after them. We have a single parent or no parent.... We're talking about human beings.... So it's not with a great deal of enthusiasm that you talk about locking up children."
Lurking off stage as these words were spoken was news of the conviction of the Arkansas defendants in the Whitewater case. Dole carefully declined comment. But others were less reticent.
"This has not been a very good week for President Clinton and the White House," former California Gov. George Deukmejian told reporters at the Redondo Beach event. "People may not understand all the intricacies of Whitewater, but they do understand what a conviction is."
Later, on board his chartered jet, Dole chatted with reporters about Senate business as he entered his last week in the chamber that shaped much of his adult life. One reporter asked whether Dole had any special plans for the departure? The truncated reply was vintage "old Bob."
"Just, sort of, leave," he said with barely a hint of expression.