KEMP PLAYS SMOOTH SECOND FIDDLE IN CONVENTION SPEECH.
Dancing as delicately as a quarterback can, Jack Kemp is seeking his proper role at the Republican ball - somewhere between wallflower and belle.
Being No. 2 is a difficult task for a man used to choreographing his own steps. And it is especially tough when the real belle of the ball is as easy to eclipse as Bob Dole, whose own moves are a bit clumsy.
Kemp took his turn Thursday night, gliding with ease through the final hours of the Republican National Convention, accepting the nomination for vice president and all the while tipping his hat to Dole.
``This is a great nation with a great mission, and last night we nominated a leader whose stature is equal to that calling,'' Kemp said. ``A man whose very words convey a quiet strength, who knows what it means to sacrifice for others, to sacrifice for his country and to demonstrate courage under fire. And who brings people together of all parties and backgrounds in common cause.''
At times subdued, at times forceful - but never looking as ecstatic as the man who picked him to be there - Kemp evoked the images of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan, while offering an appeal of ``boundless opportunity.''
As Dole's vice presidential running mate, Kemp must appear sure-footed enough to help the ticket, but not so controlling that he steals the spotlight. He has to follow Dole's lead, while maintaining his own voice.
As he stood at the lectern Thursday, Kemp did so with aplomb, taking care to hit the same themes Dole has stressed on the hustings: the need to cut taxes, to make the Republican Party more tolerant of diverse people and divergent views, to give Americans a reason to hope.
There were signs of the Jack Kemp the nation got to know first as star quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, then as congressman and, finally, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Unlike Dole, who is hindered by a war wound, Kemp uses his entire being to deliver a speech, shifting his shoulders from side to side, accentuating words with waving arms and pointing fingers.
It was Kemp the ex-quarterback who tried to regain control from a cheering crowd, at one point raising his hands and cautioning, ``You're taking my time.'' His past caught up with him at the end of his speech, when ``You've Got to Be a Football Hero'' blared through the hall and red-and-white footballs flew through the air.
The speech capped a week that saw the Great Metamorphosis of Jack Kemp.
He's flip-flopped, he's supplanted his ego, he's walked in the shadows.
After months of chatter about the New Bob Dole - and amid some uncertainty about who he really is - voters now are catching a glimpse of the New Jack Kemp.
The New Jack Kemp has given nods of approval to limiting government services to immigrants, ending affirmative action and balancing the budget. The Old Jack Kemp spoke vociferously against all three. But, then, the Old Jack Kemp was not running for vice president with a man who espoused different views.
Photo: Jack Kemp hugs his wife, Joanne, after his acceptance speech.