Kemp Will Draw GOP Activists, but Will Voters Follow Too?
SAN DIEGO — The motorcycle had a sidecar. It sat with the other bikes at Paul Kemp's Harley Davidson dealership in Los Angeles. Though the Depression was over, people weren't buying motorcycles.
Then a man showed up and asked if Mr. Kemp would deliver some packages in the sidecar. It wasn't long before he was earning more running boxes than selling bikes. So Kemp dropped the dealership, took out a loan on his house, and traded his bike for a truck. As he built a business, his son, Jack, took notes.
"I learned my first economic lesson from that trade," Jack Kemp told C-Span in 1988. "You can deliver more packages in a truck than you can in a motorcycle. The truck represents a capital investment. Capital investment is necessary in a society to make people more productive."
This simple tenet has become a mustard grain of modern Republican economics, and Jack Kemp one of its most enthusiastic sowers. A passion for economic principles has long defined Mr. Kemp's political life.
Now, as he prepares to take up the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket under Bob Dole, Kemp will be trying to sell his ideas - particularly "supply-side" economics - to the rest of the nation.
It is a role he is used to. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan launched his tax-cut revolution with supply-side proposals, Kemp was an early booster. During the 1996 primary campaign, Kemp endorsed Dole rival Steve Forbes - in part because of the publishing magnate's enthusiasm for tax cuts and supply-side economics.
Just how much Kemp, a former professional football player, US congressman from New York, and US Housing secretary, will boost Dole's prospects is uncertain. As the GOP convention opens, the retired senator lags from 10 to 28 points behind President Clinton in various polls. The bottom half of presidential tickets seldom counts as a serious factor in election results.
But Kemp has wide appeal. Often called "the compassionate conservative," he embodies Mr. Reagan's optimism and John F. Kennedy's youth. He remains a leader of the "growth" wing of the Republican Party, and because he opposes abortion he is acceptable to the social conservatives.
As a longtime advocate of inner-city renewal, Kemp enjoys broad trust among minorities and may help Dole with the urban vote. As a native of California and a representative of New York, he could help in two important electoral-college states.
If nothing else, his selection as Dole's running mate has sparked new energy into a party and a convention that seemed muted by a sense of defeat a few days ago.
"Nobody brings as much excitement to as broad a range of voters as does Kemp," says longtime friend and California GOP consultant Sal Russo. "This will cause a lot of people to take another look at Bob Dole."
From the time he was 5, Kemp says, he was a quarterback. He and his three brothers practically slept with their cleats on, they were so obsessed with sports. In fact, Kemp's dreams of playing professional football made him something of a rarity. The Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and few kids had heard of them. Pro players made only a few thousand dollars in those days.
But his parents indulged him, and the boy went on to throw touchdowns for Fairfax High School in west Los Angeles and Occidental College. By the time he'd finished 13 years in the pros, he'd worn seven different uniforms, led Buffalo to two American Football League championships, and was named AFL most valuable player.
When Kemp put the pigskin down, he took up politics, first representing Buffalo in Congress from 1971 to 1989 and waging an unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988. When George Bush won that election, he named Kemp secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Kemp took up the supply-side cause early. In 1978, he teamed up with Sen. William Roth (R) of Delaware to propose a 30 percent cut in personal income-tax rates over three years and a package of business write-offs. Such policies, he argued, would free capital for new investments and stimulate economic growth.
It didn't take the party long to latch on. In 1976, the GOP platform emphasized balancing the budget. Four years later, the same document mentioned Kemp-Roth twice, and the supply-side doctrine became the cornerstone of Reagan's campaign.
That was the first issue Kemp and Dole clashed over. Dole is a late believer in the magic of tax cuts. During the 1988 campaign, Kemp called Dole an "old-guard Herbert Hoover Republican," a cut at Dole's hawkish stand on budget deficits.
More disparate views
Now that Dole has apparently come around to Kemp's style of economics, the adversaries-cum-running mates will have to square their positions on other policies, such as affirmative action and immigration. Dole has backed the current GOP trend toward dismantling racial preference programs and taking a tougher line against illegal immigrants.
Kemp is cautious about ending affirmative action, arguing it should not be discarded until an alternative approach is found. He opposed California's move to end affirmative action this year. He also spoke out against the state's controversial Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative ending public benefits for illegal immigrants.
Other than economic growth, however, Kemp is most vocal on creating a conservative approach to ending poverty, and he built a reputation as Housing secretary as a compassionate advocate of the poor. In that post, he advocated allowing the people living in public housing projects to gain ownership, and he pushed for a business-led approach to revitalizing inner cities.
"The Good Shepherd proved his love for the 99 [sheep] by saving the stray lamb," Kemp said at at a 1992 Monitor breakfast, describing his approach to helping the poor lift themselves. "I think the Good Shepherd model is the only way a society can function in a democracy such as ours."