"Does he talk too much?" ponders his mother-in-law, Lois Main, 83, of Fillmore, Calif. "Yes. He probably does, a little bit." As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under George Bush, Kemp would gush so torrentially that former aide Sherrie Rollins, now an ABC executive, would hop on a chair and wave her arms frantically to get him to stop. For naught. "You could stand up there and strip naked," a Secret Service agent told her, "and you're not going to get him to stop talking."
Kemp, 61, ran true to form at his Aug. 10 unveiling in Russell, Kans., as Bob Dole's running mate, taking twice the speechmaking time allotted him. But Republicans looking for an upbeat partner for the often dour Dole didn't seem to mind, though many must be asking if the former Buffalo Bills quarterback can put his rangy energy behind a man with whom he has often disagreed. Longtime Kemp supporter Jude Wanninski, a political consultant, says yes, and labels the former rivals "Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, father and son." Kemp would seem to agree. "Unity does not require unanimity," he said before his formal nomination last week, even as he backpedaled furiously, downplaying his previous support for affirmative action and backing Republican proposals to crack down on illegal immigrants' access to government services.
And that's not the only aspect of his game plan Kemp may have to change in the weeks ahead. When he ran for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, Kemp, says his former campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, "was very hard to discipline.... I was always the one who had to say, 'Jack, you need to shorten the speech,' 'Jack, you have to stay on message.' I was a pain in the ass to him, but he was a pain in the ass to me." Rollins adds that Kemp "has one of the most inquisitive minds I've ever seen. If he reads the bestseller list and there's 12 books on it, he's gonna buy all 12."
Even at home in Bethesda, Md., the hyperkinetic Kemp likes to sit in his family room reading a history book, surfing TV channels and yapping on the telephone, all at the same time. "He doesn't ever do nothing," says Joanne, a homemaker and a devout Presbyterian who hosts a weekly Bible study group in their home. When his children—Jeff, now 37, Jennifer, 33, Judith, 30, and James, 25—were young, Kemp would often leave notes he called JK-grams on their pillows, exhorting them to better themselves. "He's an incorrigible encourager," says son Jeff, himself a former Seattle Seahawks quarterback who now heads a conservative, Seattle-based charity that aids families in trouble. "He was very huggy, affectionate, a lot of kisses."
Kemp's models for such demonstrative love were his own parents, Paul, a truck driver who eventually ran his own small trucking company, and Frances, a public-school social worker. Born in 1935, the third of four sons in a middle-class Los Angeles home, Jack honed his debating skills at the dinner table. "Our mother stimulated it," says brother Tom, 66. "She was quite an intellectual." But Jack was more interested in sports. At tiny Occidental College in L.A., he majored in physical education, quarterbacked the football squad and—in his junior year—met cheerleader Joanne Main, whom he married in 1958, a year after the Detroit Lions chose him in the 17th round of the football draft. He bounced from team to team until 1962, when he joined the Buffalo Bills. Small for a pro (6') but driven, Kemp led the team to American Football League titles in 1964 and 1965, the season the league named him Most Valuable Player.
Unlike quarterbacks who run out-of-bounds to avoid getting tackled, says former Bills teammate Ed Rutkowski, 55, "he'd just turn upfield and take the linebacker head-on." His teammates would rib him for reading The Wall Street Journal and economic tomes in the locker room. "Get rid of those darn books and get your mind on football," teammate Ernie Warlick, 67, recalls coach Lou Saban chiding. But even his game mind was playful; for his own amusement, Kemp would improvise riffs on the color codes of various plays at the line of scrimmage. "He'd line up and yell 'burnt orange!' or 'chartreuse!' " says Warlick. But off the field, Kemp was color-blind. Warlick remembers a 1964 night in New Orleans when he, Kemp and another teammate were repeatedly turned away from French Quarter bars because Warlick is black. "He said, 'If we all can't go, then I'm not going,' " Warlick recalls.
Still, Kemp was obviously headed someplace: After retiring from football in 1970, he parlayed his gridiron popularity into nine terms as a congressman representing suburban Buffalo, introducing Ronald Reagan to supply-side economics and eventually leading the fight for his tax-cutting Kemp-Roth bill of 1981. After his presidential bid failed, he took the HUD post in 1989, where his impassioned efforts to revitalize inner cities—and his infatuation with his own ideas—drove some members of the Bush team up the wall.
Now the question is whether Kemp's brash fervor will buoy or burden Dole's candidacy. "He's always stuck to his guns," says former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, whom Kemp endorsed in the primaries. "That's one of his appeals." Now it's also his dilemma.
LINDA KRAMER and PATRICK ROGERS in San Diego, JOHN HANNAH in Los Angeles, TOM DUFFY in Buffalo and ANDREW MARTON and JANE SIMS PODESTA in Washington