Close the sale, Bob

The delegates may have liked what they saw, but they kept their wallets in their pockets

Published August 16, 1996 10:56AM (EDT)


Just moments before Bob Dole told the American people that he is the "most optimistic man in America," I leaned my ear toward a couple of young white men in suits standing behind me near the VIP seating area.

They seemed important. Throughout the speech, the two smiled and nudged each other with each big applause line. Now, as the speech
was drawing to a close, the clean-shaven fellow in the dark suit, the shorter of the two, was glowing, punching his fist in the air.

"Close the sale, Bob. Close the sale," he said, urging on his man at the podium.

At the end of the speech, the two were ecstatic. Balloons rained down from the ceiling. The crowd was cheering like mad. Country
music idol Travis Tritt was breaking into a song about his daddy. Bob Dole was waving at his fans.

"How do you think he did?" I asked the man who had been urging the candidate from Russell, Kansas to close the deal with the American public. "I am happy, thrilled. He pulled it off," said the man, who turned out to be John Buckley, a former rock critic -- now Dole's communications director -- who helped prepare the speech. "It's been a long process," Buckley said. "But it was worth it."

He moved away, accepting the congratulations of others nearby. "It's a lot more fun now that we're winning," he told one well-wisher.

Well, at least they're not losing nearly as badly as they were when the week started. The stage show -- designed to sell the GOP as a big, inclusive, fun party, ready to embrace all color and creeds -- was a smash. Who could forget Liddy Dole, working the convention floor like a country club version of Ricki Lake? Or the perky Susan Molinari, shamelessly using her three-month-old baby as a political prop during the keynote speech? There was Colin Powell, the perfect symbol of a prominent big tent black man in a party that is overwhelmingly white.

And, finally, the once-mean-old Bob Dole became all smiles, "the most optimistic man in America," who is going to cut taxes, increase military spending, balance the budget, save the American family from the evil Democrats and lock up the bad guys -- all at the same time. "It's a pep rally," said John Oxendine, the elected insurance commissioner for the state of Georgia. "The point is to put on a show. And it's been a good show."

Still, when it came to putting the delegate's money where their cheering voices were, the results seemed to be less encouraging. In the shopping mall above the convention floor, Bob and Liddy's book, "Unlimited Partners," just wasn't moving, despite the new-found enthusiasm for the candidate. Neither were the $35 Bob Dole cravats, the $50 Russian-style nesting dolls of Republican presidents or the custom GOP gold jewelry. "I don't think I am even going to make my entrance fee back," said jeweler Trish De La Rosa, who had shelled out $3,000 for a corner booth at the "Convention Emporium."

At the large Crown Books outlet inside the mall, hundreds of signed copies of "Unlimited Partners" sat largely untouched. The new Tom Clancy pot boiler, "Executive Orders," and the Ed Rollins tell-all
campaign book, "Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms" (which is not very complimentary to Jack Kemp), were doing much better.

The only vendor seeing much action was the one running the Dole/Kemp buttons-and-bumper-stickers booth, where delegates were stocking up on $1 lapel pins. A couple of custom cigar vendors also seemed to be doing a brisk business. "You got your cigars for tonight, my friend?" a man called out cheerfully from the Cohabaco booth, where hand-rolled stogies could be had for $10.

But Uri Kellerman, who sells signed Bald Eagle lithographs called "From Sea to Shining Sea" for $50, did not have a good convention. "I don't know why," he said, "but there isn't much excitement this year. Houston was a lot better."

Quote of the day

Reality bites

"This budget area covers a wide variety of programs, such as education, the environment, scientific research, law enforcement and veterans' health care. By 2002, this budget area would be reduced 37 percent below the current level, after adjusting for inflation. Stated another way, 37 percent of the Federal Government, other than entitlements and defense spending, would have to disappear."

-- The Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, analyzing Bob Dole's tax and budget cut plans, assuming Dole's revenue projections are accurate. (From "Dole's Budget Fiction," by Bob Herbert, in Friday's
New York Times)

By A. Lin Neumann

Sacramento, Calif., writer A. Lin Neumann ( is a former foreign correspondent.

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