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Dole Tells Top Aides He Is ‘Very Near’ VP Decision

August 7, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Bob Dole trimmed his list of vice presidential prospects to three Wednesday and told top aides he was ``very near a final decision″ in a search he has decribed as critical to reviving his campaign.

Campaign officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, refused to name the finalists, although one said there was a strong possibility the Republican nominee would turn to someone who has not factored in public speculation.

Previously, campaign and other Republican sources have suggested Dole had narrowed his search to four or five contenders, including former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell, Gov. John Engler of Michigan, and Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Connie Mack of Florida.

While declining to rank the finalists, one source familiar with the search confirmed that Dole’s search team had been in contact with McCain and Mack as recently as Wednesday.

``I don’t know and I’m not going to say anything about it,″ Campbell said Wednesday when asked if he was among the finalists.

Campaign plans call for Dole to announce his pick Saturday in his hometown of Russell, Kan., and then fly to San Diego, the GOP’s convention city, on Sunday. Aides also have drafted a contingency plan for announcing the pick in San Diego, in case Dole is not ready to go forward Saturday.

To the Dole campaign’s dismay, the Republican Party’s internal abortion debate has dominated this week’s pre-convention coverage. As a way to refocus the media spotlight, there was talk among senior Dole advisers of moving up the announcement of a running mate, perhaps to Thursday or Friday. But that now appears unlikely.

Over the course of the past few weeks, Dole’s search team has contacted as least nine Republicans. But even as their names became known, there has been persistent speculation among top aides about a mystery candidate known only to Dole.

Within the Dole campaign, some aides are advocating former Secretary of State James A. Baker; others note the emergence of former congressman and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a prominent Dole policy adviser.

There also was talk in GOP circles this week about Lynne Cheney, the wife of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who served as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Reagan and Bush administrations. But one campaign source discouraged this speculation, as well as talk that perhaps Dick Cheney was back in contention.

Others known to have been contacted by the Dole search team include Govs. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, Jim Edgar of Illinois, George Voinovich of Ohio and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. Voinovich asked last week that he be dropped from the list, and GOP sources have said Ridge also withdrew from consideration.

Edgar would be an unlikely pick because of his support of abortion rights and past heart troubles. Thompson said as recently as Tuesday night that he was still getting requests from the search team, but one said flatly that the Wisconsin governor was not among the finalists.

``If it was true it would be one of relief,″ Thompson said Wednesday when asked about the source account. ``I certainly am not upset about it.″

Dole’s pick is considered a critical part of the run-up to next week’s Republican National Convention in San Diego, as the GOP hopeful looks for a surge in polls that have consistently shown him well behind President Clinton.

As he whittles his list, Dole faced conflicting advice and pressures.

Some advisers have been urging Dole to reach for the political center by picking a supporter of abortion rights. But in San Diego, antiabortion activists have warned against that, and point to their strengths in the platform hearings as evidence they could disrupt the convention.

Other factors include whether to target a particular state or region with the vice presidential pick.

Engler, for example, could help the ticket in Michigan and elsewhere in the industrial Midwest, and his tax-cutting record meshes nicely with Dole’s new economic plan. But Dole does not have close rapport with Engler.

South Carolina is a solid GOP state in presidential politics, but Campbell backers suggest he could help throughout the region. Detractors suggest his recent work for the American Council of Life Insurance would allow Democrats to paint him as a lobbyist.

McCain was chairman of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm’s presidential primary campaign but quickly endorsed Dole after Gramm quit the race. The former Vietnam prisoner of war has a solid rapport with Dole.

Florida’s Mack was added to the list late last month. Mack won a 1994 re-election landslide over Hugh Rodham, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s younger brother, in a state critical to Dole’s comeback hopes.

Mack is a solid conservative who in his House days was a close ally of congressional leaders Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott.

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