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DOLE & KEMP & REV. BILLY JOE IN THE SAN DIEGO SUNSHINE

By Published on .

Let's hear it for "Dole- Kemp: The Infomercial."

When Adam and Eve were evicted and sent to dwell somewhere East of Eden, God whipped up a second Garden that fell just short of the original, but not by much. Last week not even Republicans in convention gathered did much to spoil San Diego.

Glorious sunshine, pretty women, Speaker Newt making a "hooray for Martin Luther King" oration, non-stop cocktail parties, that gorgeous harbor crammed with yachts, funny hats, Mayor Barry of Washington lobbying pols, and Ollie North roaming the hallways, does it get any better than this?

And a dandy week for candidate Dole. The polling figures went up: his tax cut proposal (never mind how he'll pay for it; if he wins he'll find a way; if he loses, it's moot), an energetic and popular running mate in maverick Jack Kemp, the bounce every convention temporarily provides. Plus the 72 million federal campaign bucks he was cleared to spend on TV ads and elsewhere. And this convention, despite the shabby treatment it gave host Gov. Pete Wilson and others who veered from the party line on abortion, was a hell of a lot saner and more upbeat than the craziness four years ago in Houston. Where the three harpies, Rev. Pat Robertson, Marilyn Quayle and Pat Buchanan, ranted into mikes until President Reagan's anointed hour as elder and icon, drifted clear out of prime time.

I flew in from New York via Denver mid-afternoon Sunday, having traveled the last leg with George Wesley Sr. and Jr. They're from Oklahoma City and young Master Wesley, 13, was to sing the national anthem to open the convention Monday. Our United flight was on time and at neat little Lindbergh Field, about 10 minutes from downtown, I hopped a Cloud 9 jitney, five bucks into town, with a couple of ladies from Wisconsin, one of them an alternate delegate. Our driver, Elliott, was from Puerto Rico, had been a N.Y. cop who got out of town after being shot, and understandably liked San Diego a lot better since he had not been shot here, not even once.

At the Hyatt checkpoint, four cleancut young men in suits wielded mine detectors around and under our van and Elliott said they had sniffer dogs, too. Across from the Marriott, there was a so-called free speech zone. One sign slandered Mr. Dole as a "tobacco industry slut"; another urged on me the charms of a strip joint, staffed entirely by "pure platinum showgirls." At my hotel (the Red Lion), TV said Buchanan would endorse Dole. Well, why shouldn't he? Pat got everything he wanted short of prime time and the nomination.

And then he ended up claiming, "It's our party now." I don't know who's scarier, Pat or his sister Bay; you sport a sprig of wolfbane around those two. Monday morning, cool and sunny again, and no traffic jams whatever. This is some town, bro. The Convention Center is topped with six huge white canvas sails rustling in a cool breeze off the water. I wandered along looking for Imus on talk show row, where Bob Grant and Mary Matalin and Ollie and other famous radio people I never heard of sit at little card tables talking to America. No Rush Limbaugh. I was accosted by Rev. Billy Joe Clegg who had a vast sign saying, "Ask your mother where you'd be today if she aborted you." Rev. Billy Joe told me he'd run in several GOP primaries and had done especially well in New Hampshire. The Rev. needed a shave and could have used a clean shirt and I declined his offer to go on my show since I didn't have one. Then I bumped into Pete du Pont, who assured me within a few weeks Clinton would be stealing the Dole tax cut idea. Probably right, too.

In an upstairs merchandise mart they were selling T-shirts, a 20-buck Bill Clinton rip-apart doll and Dole buttons starting at a dollar. I hung out with the CNBC guys for a while and then did a live commentary as, behind me, the band and young George Wesley Jr. swung into "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Whew! So I went outside to walk along the waterfront. A big gray carrier was moored and out in the harbor four Marine landing craft in line headed under the Coronado Bridge to practice storming beaches but few Top Guns were up there flying at this hour. A guy named Todd C. handed me a leaflet urging me to try something called Wow!, "mega-nutrition that tastes like natural citrus and feels like rocket fuel."

Tuesday evening was Nancy Reagan and Colin Powell. Pretty good stuff with Gen. Powell winding up precisely as prime time ended in the East and you wondered if maybe the convention was climaxing a bit early. Could Bob Dole top this? Guvs Wilson and Weld and Sen. Olympia Snowe tried to hold a press conference behind the bleachers on their pro-choice position while a leather-lunged heckler just kept screaming.

I write this on Wednesday, looking forward to tonight's voting, the roll call of the states, for me the best part of any convention. The hot air, the regional accents, the shameless boosterism, the high-flown oratory, the brief moment in the sun of anonymous delegates from far off, the bunkum and the genuine state pride, all combine every four years when Americans again choose their next president (or his vanquished opponent). I love this vestige of the oldtime torchlight parades, this relic of the smoke-filled room with its suggestion that at any moment the entire place is about to burst into a chorus of "Wintergreen for President!"

I do so love it.

Susan Molinari's keynote was workmanlike, no better, and I didn't think Kemp was amused by her ref to his wordiness. I squirmed as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison did unto Clinton what her fellow Texans tried to do unto Kay, by booting her out of their state delegation. Sometimes I think Republicans hate rival Republicans more than they hate Dems.

Successful convention? Absolutely. Good enough to beat Clinton? I think they can make it close. But unless the president is indicted or Hillary resumes seeing swamis and talking to dead people, I don't think so.

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