Clinton Campaign Sending Out Reminders of Dole’s Age
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The first president of the baby boom generation stood before Congress, gazing down at the House floor and soon-to-be presidential rival Bob Dole.
``We are thankful especially for our veterans of World War II,″ Bill Clinton said during January’s State of the Union address. ``I would like to say to Senator Bob Dole ... I salute your service.″
It was meant as an olive branch to the majority leader and a show of graciousness to a viewing public demanding more civility. But the remark sent another message:
Whether they mean to or not, President Clinton and his advisers slip subtle reminders of Dole’s 73 years into the public debate. And more can be expected now that 61-year-old Jack Kemp is his running mate.
Clinton, who turned 50 on Monday, and 48-year-old Vice President Al Gore captured the imagination of voters in 1992 with a youthfulness and vigor that helped defeat another World War II veteran, George Bush.
If elected, the Dole-Kemp ticket would be a combined 134 years old.
Presidential aides almost never comment on the ages of Dole and Kemp, and deny there is any concerted generational strategy.
But the images, intended or not, are unmistakable:
_Democratic ads fade to black-and-white when Dole is pictured, giving his face an ashen hue.
_During his Wyoming vacation, the president and his family took a rugged 8.5-mile hike through the wilds of Yellowstone National Park. He posed for pictures atop a horse and took a heart-pounding ride on the Snake River rapids.
_This spring, Clinton and Gore rolled up their sleeves in front of photographers and hoisted bulky logs as part of a cleanup project along the Potomac River.
_White House aides make frequent reference to Dole’s ``old″ ideas or ``old″ solutions.
_Clinton surrogates are not above joking about Dole’s age. Party chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told a union gathering Monday that pot smoking by politicians is not an issue. ``Actually most people wanted to know whether or not Bob Dole had experimented with beer during prohibition,″ he said.
Asked about the age issue Sunday, Clinton told CBS that it ``is no big deal.″
But senior political advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, say age will be a factor in the election by feeding criticism that Dole offers little new to the public debate.
Reflecting that thinking, the president said Sunday, ``The main thing is whether the ideas are old.″
There’s that word again.
Republicans counter that the experience of Kemp and Dole is a welcome change from what they view as an unpolished, undisciplined, immature, unreliable presidency.
In his convention address, Dole called Clinton part of ``a corps of elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered, or never learned.″
Wary of the age issue, the Dole-Kemp ticket is going all out to look fit.
Within hours of his selection as Dole’s running mate, Kemp caught a football from an admirer. The former quarterback tossed backed a tight spiral. He arm-wrestled with Olympic athletes at a GOP convention gala last week.
With the president turning 50, the Dole-Kemp campaign asked Clinton on Monday to release his complete health records. The president has routinely turned over doctor’s summaries, but not complete records.
``It just seems that when Dole had his birthday, people asked for his health records,″ said Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin.
Dole, whose right arm was crippled during the wartime service saluted by Clinton, can’t easily lift logs or toss balls to negate the age issue. He can, though, do his best to look his youngest.
He has posed for photographers while working out on his treadmill.
And during an acceptance-speech practice session, Dole had his TelePrompTer mounted on a sunny oceanfront deck. He wanted a healthy tan for the prime-time address.
``Age has its advantages,″ Dole later told the convention.