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12:00 AM, Jul 29, 1996 • By MATTHEW REES
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Frahm's performance as a campaigner pales in comparison, although she won a statewide election (for lieutenant governor) in 1994. The Wichita Eagle, one of the state's biggest newspapers, describes her this way: "Envision your mother or favorite gradeschool teacher going to work in Washington, someone who is plump, pleasant, and prodding." On the stump, she's smooth, if a little bit stiff. She has personal stories to tell that ought to come in handy in campaigns; she was raised in a home without running water or electricity, and she adopted an abandoned baby 15 years ago. But like Dole, she fails to evoke her personal experiences in a way that moves voters.

Frahm's strategy is twofold: First, while blurring the ideological distinctions, she contrasts her record with Brownback's. Campaign manager Lott told me, "The issue is performance versus promises." He points out that while Frahm was lieutenant governor she helped deliver a $ 1.3 billion tax cut, while Brownback "has a record of promising many things but coming up short in delivery." Second, she's tying herself to the state's most popular elected officials: Dole and Gov. Graves, who selected her to replace Dole. One of her television ads shows her swearing in as senator and proclaims that she's "picking up where Bob Dole left off." The narrator, who calls her a " common-sense conservative" and whose image appears at the end of the ad, is Graves. In another ad, which attacks Brownback for calling her a big spender, Frahm says, "Bob Dole would never start a campaign in Kansas this way." And all three of her ads tout her fiscal conservatism. To bolster the point, she recently broke with Kassebaum and voted against raising the minimum wage.

But the latest signs from the polls are not encouraging for Frahm. An independent Oklahoma polling firm recently found Frahm, who a month ago led by 24 points, trailing by six points. (Brownback's lead is even bigger among Republicans who voted in 1992 and 1994.) One person whose involvement could help her make up the deficit is Dole, but he's staying neutral.

That's probably wise. He'd gain little from having his candidate win, but would suffer a public-relations blow if his choice were defeated on the eve of the convention. While Kansas isn't precisely representative of the nation at large, its moderate-conservative clash is, and Dole and others shouldn't downplay the significance of the outcome. A Frahm victory would embolden those calling for a kinder, gentler conservatism than the brand pushed by House Republicans.

But a Brownback triumph -- which is looking increasingly likely -- would be a reminder that those who helped thrust the GOP into the majority aren't prepared to give up their revolutionary aspirations just yet.

By Matthew Rees