'Down-Home' Dole Brings Message Downstate

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Byline: Don Thompson Daily Herald State Government Writer

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - Bob Dole and Jack Kemp brought their campaign to the heart of the heartland Friday, and it doesn't get much more down home than this: barbecued brats served up in the middle of a 1,500-acre corn and soybean farm.

Against a harvest backdrop, Dole blasted Democratic President Bill Clinton's targeted tax cuts as a tax increase in disguise, and addressed the skepticism that met his own plan to spur the economy with tax cuts.

"The skeptics will say, 'How can you possibly have a 15 percent tax cut and a $500 child credit and estate tax relief and other things we have in our program, and still balance the budget by the year 2002?' That is a legitimate question," Dole said.

"All we really need to do is slow the rate of increase in federal spending," he said. "We exempt interest (on the federal debt), we exempt defense, we exempt Medicare, we exempt social security...Do you think we ought to be able to save 5 cents on the dollar out of $600 billion in all the other federal spending?...By saving 5 cents, we can give you enough and more to pay for the tax cuts. That's what this is all about. It isn't very complicated, it's not rocket science."

Dole was preaching to the converted in a county in which four of every five voters supported Gov. Jim Edgar for re-election and helped Republicans sweep all six statewide offices and the General Assembly two years ago. Yet, Dole has thus far been unable to make headway in a state so fickle that it gave Republican George Bush just a third of the vote four years ago.

Illinois is proof that Dole still could be doing well if he found a way to appeal to the increasing percentage of voters who classify themselves as independents and vote for the individual they think would do the best job.

Those pick-and-choose voters have helped give Illinois the intriguingly schizophrenic combination of a Republican governor since 1976 coupled with two Democratic senators since 1984. Had Edgar or Sens. Paul Simon or Carol Moseley-Braun run in a different election cycle, for instance, or against opponents who didn't self-destruct, the outcome might have been entirely different.

One reason for Dole's difficulty this year is the adage that citizens vote their pocketbooks, and the economic cycle has favored Clinton both this year and in 1992, said Alan Monroe, who teaches classes on voting and elections at nearby Illinois State University in Normal. …