Jack Kemp was enormously influential in the development of my personal political philosophy. I've always felt that he was the more natural heir to Ronald Reagan. He stood in sharp contrast to the "Compassionate Conservatism" (read Big-Government Conservatism) of the Bushes, and to a lesser extent John McCain and Bob Dole.
Kemp was a tireless promoter of small government conservatism. He worked for it with the zeal of a missionary. He would speak to groups, large and small oven taking questions well beyond the allotted time. If you asked him to come speak to your group he'd be there, schedule permitting. He was in the trenches winning hearts and minds. He was the right's happy warrior.
Kemp was hands down my first choice in the 1988 Republican Primaries, but sadly his campaign fizzled quickly and the party went a different direction. I swallowed my disappointment and hoped for the future. When in 1996 Dole chose Kemp as his Vice-Presidential candidate, I was thrilled. It meant that Kemp was Dole's obvious successor. I reasoned that even if Dole failed to beat Bill Clinton he'd be the obvious nominee in 2000. Obviously this did not come to pass. Kemp seemed...not quite himself during the campaign. He was distracted and and it seemed as though his heart really wasn't in it. For those too young to remember think of Fred Thompson in 2008, brilliant, right on every issue...and just not catching on with the voters.
The 1996 campaign irretrievably damaged the Kemp brand. By the time 2000 rolled around nobody thought of him as a serious presidential candidate. He was reduced to being the wise old man of the party. Someone who would occasionally appear on Sunday morning talk shows, but as a political force, he was spent. Republicans were left with evaluating which was worse: John McCain or George Bush. The rest is, as they say history.
He was a great man and I'll miss him.
A nice obit is here.