Another Dole bites the dust

Conservatives give the post-mortem on the Elizabeth Dole presidential campaign.

Topics: Republican Party,

With tearful hubby Bob by her side and an evaporating bank account, former Red Cross Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole bowed out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination Wednesday.

“The current political calendar and election laws favor those who get an early
start and can tap into huge private fortunes, or have a pre-existing network of
political supporters,” Dole said, referring to the richest of her former
opponents, gazillionaire Steve Forbes and front-running Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Bush and Forbes “enjoy a 75- or 80-to-1 cash advantage” over her, she said.
“Perhaps I could handle 2-to-1 or 10-to-1, but not 80-to-1!”

According to FEC reports filed last week, Dole has raised just under $5 million
in her campaign, and has $860,000 cash on hand, placing her fifth in the GOP fund-raising contest. Bush has raised more than $57 million, with more than $37
million on hand; Forbes has raised $20 million (including $16.4 million of his own
money), with $1.8 million on hand; Arizona Sen. John McCain has raised $9.4 million with $2.1 million on hand;
and Gary Bauer has raised $6.2 million with just $284,434 in cash on hand.

While Dole’s cash disadvantage was no doubt a major factor in her campaign’s
inability to catch fire, Republican observers pointed out a number of problems
that were self-inflicted. With celebrity and notoriety on her side, critics say, Dole never came to the microphone with anything worth saying.

“She might have had a chance to achieve some success, but she never built on it,”
said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. “The window she
had was that she’s a woman, the first ‘serious’ female candidate, so a lot of
people were interested in her.”

Since Bush is so far ahead in both name I.D. and wallet size, Kristol said, his
challengers need to offer a credible contrast with him. “You need an argument
against the front-runner,” he said. “There’s a credible argument to be made to
Republican primary voters that if you think Bush is too light you should go to
McCain. Or if you think Bush is too moderate, you go to
Forbes or Bauer  But there’s really no difference between [Dole] and Bush
in terms of issues or even tenor. They’re both moderate-conservative Republican
establishment types.”

“As [GOP pollster] Kellyanne Fitzpatrick said, ‘When your choices are vanilla and
French vanilla, what’s so appealing about French vanilla?’” said Sheila Moloney,
executive director of the conservative Eagle Forum. “I can’t really think of any
way that Liddy Dole distinguished herself from George W. Bush. She’s a nice lady,
but I’m not sure why she thought she was offering us anything new.”

Others were harsher in their criticism. “Liddy Dole puts the GOP in a quandary,”
said a female Republican official. “Republicans want her to run, to help appeal
to women. Keeping her in the race for as long as possible is very important for how the party is perceived, to help bring women back in the fold for the GOP.
But then since Dole had no ideas, her agenda-less candidacy left her with nothing
but her nontraditional appeal to women. If she doesn’t have the ideas to support
her candidacy, then her appeal is meaningless.”

Moloney agreed: “You’ve got to run on something besides the fact that you wear dresses.”

That’s a common criticism of Dole, despite the fact that she has one of the best
risumis in the business. The Gallup Poll named Dole as one of the world’s top three admired women in 1998; Barbara Walters judged her to be one of the 10 Most
Fascinating People of 1996; MSNBC called her the Most Inspiring Political Figure
of 1996; Newsweek said she was one of the Top Newsmakers of 1996; in 1997 Glamour
magazine named her Woman of the Year and Good Housekeeping called her one of
the 10 Most Admired Women — the third time she was afforded the honor.

But what do people really know about Dole? In many ways she seemed to be famous
for being famous, admired for being admired. Though her campaign bio reads
well — President Richard Nixon’s deputy assistant for consumer affairs, member of
the Federal Trade Commission , President Ronald Reagan’s public liaison and then
secretary of transportation, President George Bush’s secretary of labor — she
never seemed to symbolize more than just Elizabeth Dole, groundbreaking woman who
never really spoke about the fact that she was a groundbreaking woman.

“She’s one of these people who doesn’t want to get a job or notice because she’s
a trailblazer, she wants it because she’s good,” said Candy Straight, director of
the WISH List, which works to elect pro-choice Republican women. “She could have worked that a little more.”

Despite her decades in the public eye, Dole never came to represent anything in
terms of issues; meanwhile, Bush carved out a reputation as a “compassionate conservative,” McCain as a reform-minded feather-ruffler, Bauer as a devout Christian. In many ways, Dole was nothing more than a female Lamar Alexander. Although Alexander, at least, had
been elected to office.

“Maybe if she had a shtick” things would have been different, said Straight, who serves on both Dole’s and Bush’s national finance committees. “We all admire John McCain. We think, ‘God, he’s a brave man’ and we think about
him in terms of him as a soldier, as a P.O.W. When I think of Elizabeth, I
respect her for her feeling for public service. She’s a person who believes in
public service. She truly believes in serving. It’s why she took the job at the
Red Cross. I don’t diminish that role. But it’s not a message, I know.”

Ari Fleischer, the former Dole campaign spokesman who resigned a few weeks ago,
points out that Dole suffered from her lack of experience as a candidate. “It’s
very hard to make your first run for office the presidency,” Fleischer said. “You
haven’t benefited from experiences, from having won or lost, You haven’t adjusted
to the cadences of the campaign trail.”

Fleischer said this inexperience manifested itself in some misjudgments by his
former boss. “She was a risumi candidate,” he said. “She spoke out on the issues, but she didn’t define herself on issues. That’s a problem she could have
addressed by honing in on one issue and talking about it all fall.”

Dole was never able to turn her risumi highlights into political momentum. While Dole was secretary of transportation, her campaign bio brags, “the United States enjoyed the safest period to date in all three major transportation areas –
rail, air, and highway.” While Dole was at the Red Cross she worked on a massive
overhaul of the nation’s blood supply. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna
Shalala said that during Dole’s “leadership of the Red Cross, few have done more
to alleviate human miseries and save lives.” Food and Drug Administration
Commissioner Dr. David Kessler added that Dole’s work was “nothing short of an heroic
effort  [She] transformed the safety of the nation’s blood supply, and for
this [she] deserves the nation’s thanks.”

As a presidential candidate, she likewise plodded through with the same cheerful
competence, offering a number of substance-oriented press events. She was the
lone Republican candidate to express support for gun control. She returned to
Melrose High School in Massachusetts, where she was once an 11th-grade history
teacher, and talked about href="">charter schools and
school choice.
She finally came out as pro-life, though she assumed that same
Bush middle ground where she made it clear that the issue wasn’t exactly foremost
in her mind.

But Dole didn’t stick to warm and fuzzy domestic issues. Following in the
footsteps of her husband, the former Senate majority leader and presidential
candidate — who’d been a voice in the wilderness crying for action against Serbian thug Slobodan Milosevic — she supported the military action in Kosovo; and, with the possible exception of McCain, she talked up the strongest
of any of her rivals.

“I will pursue a simple principle,” she said in September. “Our nation’s peace
and well-being depend on our leadership. We will be strong, because security and
peace can only endure through strength. We will be vigilant, because, in today’s
world, threats are omnipresent  [and] if necessary, we will act alone. In short,
America will be there.”

And just a couple of weeks ago, Dole stood near the Mexican border and talked
about href="">stopping the flood of
illegal drugs
into the United States, pointing out that when she helmed the U.S. Coast
Guard, she oversaw the arrests of more than 3,100 drug traffickers and the
seizure of more than $12 billion worth of illegal narcotics.

In addition to all these attempts at gravitas, Dole’s campaign superficially
seemed to be doing OK. Consistently scoring No. 2 in national polls of Republican
candidates, behind only Bush, Dole also continued to beat Vice President Al Gore
in hypothetical match-ups. While her bankroll remained relatively bereft, her third-place
showing at the Iowa straw poll showed decent grass-roots support, as she had been claiming all along.

“At times I have felt as if there were two entirely separate campaigns under way,”
Dole said Wednesday. “Outside the Beltway, real people by the thousands turned
out to discuss their schools and health care, tax cuts and the state of our defense. In the real America, it’s more important to raise issues than to raise campaign funds.”

But apparently the Unreal America, where campaign coffers matter, caught up with Dole earlier this week. On a five-hour flight back from the href="/news/feature/1999/10/18/bush/index.html">National Federation of Republican
Women conference in Seattle, Dole said she reflected on the fact that outside
of Iowa sorority sisters, no one — especially people with money–seemed to
really care that she was running.

“It’s harder for women candidates to raise money,” said Erica Henri, political
director of the nonpartisan Women’s Campaign Fund, which doles out cash to
pro-choice women candidates. “Even though [Dole] was with the Red Cross and had a
lot of contacts, to translate that fund-raising to the political realm was hard.”

Women “are just starting to give money,” Henri said. “For years and years you’ve
had men in the back rooms giving money to candidates. And a lot of the organizations that give money still are controlled by men. It’s why there are groups like ourselves, EMILY’s List [which gives money to Democratic female candidates] and the WISH List.”

WISH List director Straight said the GOP’s failure to rally around a woman who continued to do so well in the polls left her “disappointed” in the Republican Party.

“We as a party didn’t get around her and help make her competitive,” Straight
said. “Elizabeth brought new people in to vote for her, but those people don’t
write checks. A political inside group writes all the checks. A majority of those
political insiders are white males. In the case of our party, those white males
decided to support George W. Bush … This is the George W. juggernaut. When you
raise $60 million it’s impossible for anyone else to get traction.”

For all the campaign miscues, Fleischer underscores the fact that Dole’s
campaign suffered from two major obstacles. “One, she left the Red Cross too
late,” he said. Dole herself acknowledged this Wednesday, saying that “my
campaign was beginning about Feb. 1,” but by then Bush — who she said had been
“quietly” running for president since 1996 — had already snatched up all the money
and endorsements.

Secondly, Fleischer adds, “George W. Bush is very strong. No one has ever before
seen anything of the likes of Gov. Bush. Could she have done more media?
Sure. Could she have isolated one issue and made it her cause? Absolutely. But
would that have changed the fundamental dynamic of this race with Gov. Bush
so far out? Probably not.”

“It’s never happened before in politics and may never happen again,” Dole said of
the Bush momentum train. She refused to discuss whether or not she’d endorse one
of her opponents, or accept her party’s vice presidential nomination.

“I think what we’ve done is pave the way for the person who will be the first
woman president,” Dole said cheerily. “Timing is everything, isn’t it?”

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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