Reshuffling In the Dole Campaign

Bob Dole's staff reshuffling is reflective of a candidate who is behind. "Get new people; try new approaches." Such orders often are issued by losing candidates as they flounder around in search of a way back.

Sometimes it works. Ronald Reagan fired and replaced some top staff and made a comeback in the 1980 primaries. But candidates usually compound their problems by trying to repair their organizations when they should be giving full attention to wooing voters.

Reporters got an early hint of Mr. Dole's organizational inadequacies when Jack Kemp failed to show up for a meeting with reporters at a Monitor breakfast in San Diego. Mr. Kemp had appeared with this same group a week earlier in Washington. After that get-together I had asked Kemp, who had attended a large number of such Monitor sessions over the years, to meet with the group at the Republican convention. Kemp's answer, as I remember it, went along this line:

"I'm not going to the convention this year. But I am going to be visiting a brother in Orange County. Maybe I can drive over for a breakfast from there. I want to do it."

Later that day Kemp's secretary called to say that he would be with us at breakfast on the Wednesday morning of the convention.

Of course, this commitment was before Kemp knew that he would be asked to join the ticket. In fact, Kemp was talking to our group like someone who was putting political life behind him. He expressed astonishment that any of us should ask him - which one of us did - whether he might be picked by Dole as his running mate. After all, he reminded us, he had come out for Steve Forbes in the primaries.

Then, as we remember well, just before the convention, the unthinkable - as Kemp had described it to us - happened. He was tapped by Dole for No. 2.

Would Kemp fulfill his convention commitment to our group? I saw no reason why he wouldn't. Kemp, it seemed to me and to others in the group, would find it useful to talk about his plans with print newsmen whose publications' circulations encompassed most of the nation's readers of newspapers and news magazines. Right up until shortly before Kemp was to arrive, I had heard nothing to tell me that he wasn't going to do what he had told me he would do.

It was only a few hours before the planned session that I indirectly got word - and too late to tell our group of the message - that Kemp wasn't coming and that Kemp's close friend and political associate, Vin Weber, would be our guest. And that's what happened - except that Weber kept us waiting for more than half an hour because of a TV commitment he was fulfilling. Weber was amply apologetic. But he really couldn't provide a satisfactory answer for Kemp's "stiffing us," as one newsman put it.

What happened? Several members of this less-than-amused group of journalists had this explanation: The Dole people had scrubbed the Kemp breakfast simply because they didn't want to expose their talkative No. 2 man to the tough questioning he would get from print reporters. One reporter put it this way: "They were afraid that under our questioning Kemp might talk about the differences he had had with Dole - and might still have. They thought they couldn't risk letting Kemp meet with us."

So it was - or so it seemed to those in our breakfast group - that Kemp's political life had been taken over by an inept Dole organization that didn't have sense enough to know that irritating the press was no way to start out a vice presidential candidate's campaign. Dole's people should have let Kemp be Kemp. I think he would have come to breakfast and have done himself - and Dole - proud.

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