RUSSELL, KAN., NOV. 9 -- Here in the heartland of traditional Republicanism, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) today announced his candidacy for president with an austere pledge to make the achievement of a balanced budget the centerpiece of his presidency.
Dole, 64, whose national stature has grown significantly since his two failed bids for national office, made his hometown announcement before the friends, neighbors and supporters who nurtured him through war wounds and elected him to the state legislature 37 years ago.
"The federal budget deficit is the single greatest threat to a prosperous and dynamic America," he said, declaring that he would campaign on the need for austerity. He said the "one fundamental theme to my campaign" is a recognition that "America must stop living for today while ignoring the long-term implications of our decisions and action for our children and generations to come."
Dole committed himself to a massive program of spending cuts in which "no area of federal spending will be off limits" except programs "to assist vulnerable Americans." He ruled out any increase in "tax rates" but left the door open to higher excise taxes, new federal user fees and the elimination of deductions and credits.
Dole's willingness to raise taxes as part of a deficit reduction package sets him apart from both Vice President Bush and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who have ruled out tax hikes of any kind.
Dole, whose past national campaigns have been marked by harsh attacks on opponents, today took some mild, indirect swipes at his major competitor for the Republican nomination, Bush.
"I offer a record, not a resume," Dole said, apparently referring to the host of appointive posts Bush has held. He declared that "the Reagan record is not something to stand on. It's not something to run on. It's something to build on," an apparent reference to Bush's unwavering loyalty to President Reagan.
In fact, however, Dole's commitment to a balanced budget achieved through spending cuts and possible tax increases places him in direct conflict with the supply-side economic theories used by the Reagan administration to push through its program of huge tax cuts combined with an unprecedented peacetime defense buildup. Under those theories, tax cuts would prompt enough growth to produce more than enough revenues to finance the operations of the federal government.
Dole, in contrast, argues that "someone must make the hard choices." On a recent swing through Iowa, he declared: "We can't just make you feel good . . . . The credit card is due."
Dole did not specify which federal programs he would cut or which federal taxes he would consider raising. Instead, he said, "I will sit down with congressional leaders during my first weeks in office and we'll stay there as long as it takes, and we will not stop until we come up with a renewed commitment to a multiyear plan -- a new compact -- that ends with a balanced budget." Previous presidents, including Jimmy Carter, have attempted without success to achieve joint commitments with congressional leaders to balance the budget.
From here, Dole went to Waukee, Iowa, and Manchester, N.H., to repeat his announcement. In Waukee, 25 men and women led by civil rights leader Randall Robinson picketed the event, charging that Dole supports apartheid in South Africa. Referring to signs carried by the group, Dole said: "The signs aren't correct. There is not a racist bone in my body."
Dole is the last of the major candidates to formally announce. In contrast to his 1980 effort, Dole enters this race well-financed and securely in possession of second place..
Dole's 1980 presidential campaign was a disaster. He won less than 1 percent of the ballots cast in the Iowa caucuses and just 597 votes of over 130,000 cast in the New Hampshire primary. "We kept the campaign a secret. We didn't announce until the polls closed. And the tactic worked," he now jokes.
In 1976, when he was the vice presidential candidate on Gerald R. Ford's ticket, his bitter denunciations of "Democrat wars" were widely viewed as contributing to Ford's razor-thin defeat.
While differing on basic economic strategy with the Reagan administration, Dole declared that he fully supported the "Reagan doctrine" of supporting anticommunist insurgencies in foreign nations. "We must press the Soviets to pull back from their reckless involvement in regional conflicts in Afghanistan, Kampuchea, Angola and Nicaragua . . . . We must stand in support of genuine freedom fighters."
He declined to commit himself on the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty now under negotiation, saying that "any missile reduction has to provide for adequate verification, ensure firm compliance and strengthen -- not undermine -- the Western Alliance."
Dole pledged that for the "poor or handicapped, black or brown, veterans, farmers, the young or the old" the Republican Party "will never practice the politics of exclusion. The Republican Party, like our nation, has an open door."
Without saying how he would pay for the initiatives, Dole committed himself to an education program that would "cut the dropout rate by at least 10 percent a year" and would "reduce by two million a year the 23 million adult Americans who can't read or write enough to fill demanding jobs."
He said that during the drive to balance the budget, "we must be certain that we provide adequate medical care at both ends of the age spectrum -- for infants and children as well as our elderly citizens." He charged that the health care system "has serious gaps . . . and strikes terror in the hearts of those who will need long-term care."
In an appeal to a key Republican constituency, he reiterated his commitment to the antiabortion movement.
Dole, who thrives not only on holding power but also on exercising it, stressed his record of legislative achievement, including a 1983 compromise that put Social Security back on a secure financial footing, his key role in winning enactment of a strengthened Voting Rights Act despite opposition from within the Reagan administration and his leadership on tax legislation.
In recent years, Dole has emerged as an exceptionally talented legislative strategist and tactician, rivaling the reputation of his predecessor as chairman of the Finance Committee, former senator Russell B. Long (D-La.).
Dole began his career in Congress when he was elected to the House in 1960. He was then one of the most conservative members, voting against almost all liberal initiatives, including Medicare.
Since then, he has remained a fiscal conservative, although he has become a key Republican supporter of food stamps, child nutrition and civil rights legislation.