Can GOP ticket overcome rightist platform Dole urged to run on economic plan

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SAN DIEGO — Like other party moderates, Jewish Republican delegates here say the battle plan for capturing the White House is simple: Bob Dole and his running mate, Jack Kemp, must ignore the divisive party platform and focus on economics.

Believing that Dole's election as president in November rests with moderate swing voters, Republican Jews are de-emphasizing the party's right-wing platform in favor of more popular positions and the candidates' personalities.

The direction of the party is especially critical to Jewish Republicans, who tend to be economic conservatives and social moderates. A large number of Jewish Republicans were turned off by the party after right-wing forces dominated the 1992 convention in Houston.

Many of this year's Jewish delegates, who make up 3 percent of the nearly 2,000 participants, were pleased that this year's convention took on a more moderate tone with speeches by Gen. Colin Powell and Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.).

Just how important a role the party's platform, which was heavily influenced by the Christian Coalition, will have in November's vote is still to be seen.

"The platform does not mean that much," said Nettie Becker, a delegate from Los Angeles.

"It's the candidates that matter. And Jack Kemp will take the message to the voters and Jews will support our ticket."

Jack Stein, a delegate from New Jersey, said, "No platform ever represents completely the views of all constituents."

"The party allows everybody a voice, that's the key to the appendix," said Stein, referring to the compromise reached on abortion that allowed for an appendix to the platform that includes the failed amendments of pro-choice forces.

"The Republican Party welcomes individuals on each side of the abortion issue, encourages their open discussion, solicits their active participation in the party and respects their positions and beliefs," the platform says.

For their part, leaders of the party's right wing point to the platform as proof that the party has not budged from its pro-life, pro-school-prayer cultural agenda.

"This represents the Republican Party. We are the pro-life, pro-family party," said Jeff Fisher, executive director of the Christian Coalition's Texas chapter and a delegate to the convention.

The platform vehemently opposes abortion, urges the return of school prayer to America's classrooms, calls for legal measures to deny citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrants and encourages religious institutions to administer government welfare programs.

"We will continue to work for the return of voluntary prayer to our schools," the platform declares.

On the question of abortion, the platform reads: "The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."

But Becker, the L.A. delegate who is a pro-choice advocate, dismissed the Christian Coalition's presence here and its impact on Dole's chances.

"They controlled the platform process. But the majority of Republicans do not share their views," she said

"Extremists flock to conventions. They do not represent me or the party."

But while Becker and other Jewish delegates tried to downplay the platform's significance, others said it was exclusionary.

"We have a tough sell. The platform sends a message: We are not inclusive," said Rosalie Zalis, a senior policy adviser to California Gov. Pete Wilson.

Wilson refused to speak at the convention after Republican officials banned him from discussing his pro-choice views.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) also slammed the platform for some of its sections on issues that are opposed by many American Jews, regardless of party affiliation.

"The Republican Party is not making this irresponsible and mean-spirited amendment part of this campaign," Specter, who is pro-choice, said of the abortion plank.

Specter also blasted the "despicable call to ban citizenship to those born in the United States" to illegal immigrants.

The same Jewish Republicans who are distancing themselves from the party's platform on social issues are championing the blueprint's strong pro-Israel message.

The platform calls for passing legislation initiated by Dole when he was a senator that requires the United States to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It also commits to joint U.S.-Israeli military projects.

And the platform also denounced "all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice and religious intolerance."

The platform is the GOP's "best ever on Israel," said an American Israel Public Affairs Committee official who worked with the drafting committee.

Kemp told a Jewish-sponsored reception here: "I am proud to run" with a "platform that recognizes the strong relationship, common values, common ideals" that the United States and Israel share.

But Republicans acknowledge that Israel alone will not sway the election for most American Jews.

"Dole-Kemp will win this election on the strength of the message of hope and opportunity," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition.

"We will reach the American voter from churches to synagogues to ghettos to barrios," he said.

Highlighting the concern about the platform's tenor, Dole and many of his supporters began to distance the GOP from the party's blueprint before the convention.

"I can't think of one circumstance in which Bill Clinton would hold up the Democrats' platform and campaign on it. Neither would Bob Dole," said Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), a convention official. "This campaign will be won or lost on the economy, crime and character."

Yet some Jewish Democrats said far-right Republicans had shaped the GOP plank, and that Dole has a poor record on Israel. On Wednesday, the San Diego chapter of the Washington, D.C.-based National Jewish Democratic Council was to hold a protest rally — with bagels and creem cheese — against the "Radical Right takeover" of the GOP.

"The Dole-Kemp ticket may be split on Israel, with Dole anti-Israel and Kemp pro-Israel, but they are unified in their support for consitutional amendments to ban abortion and allow prayer in school," said San Diego's NJDCchair, Marcia Sudolsky.

Meanwhile, Jewish Republicans and the Christian Coalition are trying to heal old wounds.

Pat Robertson, the founder of the grass-roots advocacy group, and Ralph Reed, its executive director, mixed with Jewish delegates and activists at a reception co-sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based National Jewish Coalition, the pre-eminent Republican Jewish organization.

But the pledges of cooperation and good will between the GOP's wings could not mask deep fissures that teemed below the surface in the convention hall.