Flashback Friday – Bob Dole
This week, TOP was monopolized with coverage of the Canadian federal election. Campaigns are so exciting for me, and while I could cover nothing but that for the next month and a few days, we all need a break every now and then. There are still lots of days left in the campaign, so let’s talk about something else today. A couple of weeks ago I featured Adlai Stevenson, the twice nominated Democratic candidate for president, who failed to beat Dwight Eisenhower. Today, I thought we would look at another individual who had multiple chances at the top job in the United States, but could never get the job done. However, this time he is a Republican. Bob Dole began his political career in the Senate, where he worked his way up the ranks, and gained national attention. He was selected as Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976, but the two lost the election to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. He then served as Majority Leader in the Senate, and got his own chance to become president in 1996, when he was the Republican party’s nominee. Dole lost the election to incumbent Bill Clinton, and effectively retired from politics after that.
As with sports, politics seems to have people that sit around and do nothing but come up with odd, quirky and often irrelevant facts. For Dole, historians have noted that he is the only person to be nominated for both president and vice president by his party, but to have lost both. Not something you would like to be remembered for. Dole was born in Kansas in 1923. He attended high school, then moving to the University of Kansas. There he studied law, and later went on to attend the University of Arizona, after returning from service in WWII. He concluded his schooling with a degree in law in 1952.
His political ambition spoke to him, and he was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1950. He served out his two year term, then practiced law once he completed it. But he then returned to politics, this time winning election to the United States House of Representatives in 1960. By 1968, his political career was continuing, this time in the Senate. He won election, still representing his home state of Kansas. During his time in the Senate, Dole wore many hats. He served as the Chair of the Republican National Committee, he was minority leader from 1987-1995 and was majority leader twice, from 1985-1987 and 1995-1996. While his time in the Senate can be regarded as very successful, his attempts at presidential politics were not.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford selected Dole to be his running mate. Ford’s then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, declined to be included on the ticket. Dole’s inclusion helped to pick up some support from the midwest and southern states, as Ford hailed from Michigan. Ford and Dole faced a steep hill to climb to win the election, and neither was a very strong campaigner. While they narrowed the gap come election day, they still lost to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Dole returned to the Senate, and prepared himself to run for the nomination of the Republican party. Trouble was, there were several other candidates who were also prepared to run, and one almost had a lock on the nomination. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took the nomination, and Dole barely received any support. Reagan’s challenge of Gerald Ford in 1976 had put him as the presumptive front-runner in 1980.
So once again, Dole returned to the Senate. This time he served as minority and majority leader before he once again ran for the nomination of the Republican party for President of the United States. In 1988, the White House was vacant, and Dole put his name forward. In this contest, Dole waged a better fight. His main opponent was Vice President George H.W. Bush. The two were nearly equal in the polls, and each won primary contests. But Bush had a team that was more experienced and effective. Dole was still a terrible campaigner, and did not come off well towards the media. He was once again bested for the nomination.
As he had done twice before, Dole returned to the Senate, where he kept getting reelected quite easily. Six year terms afforded him the luxury of not having to fight a campaign very often. In the back of his mind though, Dole was still contemplating a run at the presidency. He had to wait at least 8 years, as that would be the first opportunity for an open Republican nomination (regardless of whether President Bush had been reelected in 1992). As such, when his chance came again in 1996, Dole once again threw his hat in the ring. By this time, he was 73 years old. Not a young fellow. But the Republican party had nominated Ronald Reagan when he was in his 70’s, and we all know how well he did. He benefited from the fact that there were no big names contesting the nomination. In 1980 he battled Reagan, Bush, Baker and more. In 1988 he battled Bush and Robertson. But in 1996, the nomination was pretty much his. He secured the necessary votes, and faced off against President Clinton.
During the general election campaign, President Clinton was better funded, better prepared and a more effective communicator. While Dole was fighting for the nomination, Clinton was running ads against him, promoting his record, and pointing out what a conservative Dole was. And while Reagan’s age never really became an issue, Dole’s did, especially after he fell off of a stage at a campaign rally. In the end, Clinton won a decisive victory and returned to the White House. After 4 attempts, at one of the top jobs in Washington, Dole had failed again. And because he had resigned his Senate seat to run for president, he was officially out of a job.
Dole retired from politics after his 1996 defeat. He has remained active as a partner at a Kansas law firm. He also helped to establish the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. It is recognition of Dole’s time spent as a student at the University, as well as his time as a Senator, representing Kansas. The University also houses all of Dole’s Senatorial papers, and documents of the like, almost like a presidential library.
Today Bob Dole is 87 years old, and by most accounts is still quite healthy for his age. In 2000, his wife Elizabeth Dole, who was also a Senator, followed in her husband’s footsteps and ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2000. She lost to George W. Bush though. Dole was previously married to Phyllis Holden from 1948 to 1972, and the two had a daughter together. Bob Dole has a proud record of serving his country, during WWII and in politics. While he was never president, he accomplished much in the Senate, that will keep him in the history books for a while.