BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — In the morning-after gloom of his devastating Super Tuesday defeat, Bob Dole was campaigning in a Chicago suburb when someone asked him how he felt.
"I've felt better," he volunteered grimly. "Nothing's easy in life--for me."
An understandable lapse into self pity, perhaps. But Dole's words bore a flash of truth that not only said much about the bitter edge to his fight with Vice President George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination but also Dole's decision not to quit despite mounting evidence that his campaign is quickly unraveling.
"I don't give up," Dole vowed in this central Illinois city Friday, even while promising to "reassess" his prospects after next Tuesday's crucial primary here. "If I'd given up, I'd be off in a rest home somewhere."
Dole's life has been anything but easy. He grew up poor in Dust Bowl Kansas, worked hard and then saw the dreams of his youth shattered, along with his body, when he was badly wounded while trying to rescue a fallen Army comrade during World War II. It took him years to recuperate, and his right arm was left crippled and useless.
Bush, on the other hand, came from rich, patrician stock. He, too, has known heartbreak--the death of a young child, for example--but his climb through the ranks of the business and political worlds has not been particularly grueling.
Waltzing to the Top
Now Dole, the self-made political leader, is visibly frustrated as he sees Bush once again waltzing to the very top of the ladder.
"There's some resentment there," acknowledged Kim Wells, a lawyer who managed Dole's last two campaigns for his Kansas Senate seat. "It's not envy. But there's a feeling (that) 'I've earned everything I've gotten. George Bush's advantages made the road easier for him.' "
Most vexing of all has been Bush's success in capitalizing on his symbolic role in the Reagan Administration without, in Dole's opinion, contributing much to its achievements. Bush has avoided deep scrutiny by mounting an aloof, media-intensive campaign that keeps both the voters and press at arm's length. Yet, in the eyes of most Republican primary voters, at least, much of Ronald Reagan's aura has rubbed off on Bush.
Running Against Ghost
"I can beat Bush, but I can't beat Ronald Reagan," Dole lamented Friday at a rally in the Mississippi River town of Moline. "And I'm running against the ghost of Ronald Reagan."
His resentment shines through in ways both big and small. And it may be helping to cloud Dole's keen political instincts even as some advisers urge him privately to quit the race before he splits the party and damages his own reputation.
"I don't need advisers to tell me when to get in or out," he snapped at a Rockford news conference. " . . . If somebody's going to drop out, I'll talk to my wife, Elizabeth, about it and then I'll \o7 tell\f7 my advisers."
Defiantly, Dole is scrambling to hold on, juggling strategies and schedules on the fly and injecting even more chaos into a campaign long hamstrung by lack of organization.
"We're hanging by our fingernails," he admitted. "Shouldn't be, but we are. We need something to capture the attention of the Illinois voters."
Confusion Over TV ADs
Trying to accomplish that resulted in even more confusion. On Thursday, Dole staff members announced that the campaign had yanked its entire $450,000 schedule of television commercials from the state's airwaves and was "reassessing" its so far ineffective media strategy. On Friday, however, campaign chairman William E. Brock III said that only about one-third of the commercials had been suspended, with the $100,000 saved to be used instead to buy air time for a 30-minute program featuring Dole on stations in Chicago and elsewhere in the state.
Dole communications director Larry McCarthy said Friday that the campaign had tried to cancel all its commercials but several television stations would not accept the cancellations.
Although Dole pledged that the 30-minute program would be devoid of gimmicks, it will originate live from Knox College in the northwest Illinois community of Galesburg at the same time that the vice president is scheduled to make an appearance at the school. Dole invited Bush to appear on the show and even offered to send a car to fetch him.
As his fortunes sagged at the polls, Dole has increasingly turned to baiting Bush in both subtle and blatant ways. Dole frequently grumbles that Bush has abused the perks of his office by letting taxpayers bankroll travel and staff costs that other candidates had to cover with campaign funds.
"George Bush has got a multimillion-dollar subsidy from the government," Dole complained again Friday. "He doesn't have any worry about expenses. The government picks up the tab for him."
Rarely does a speech or press conference slip by without Dole's firing at least a token shot at what he sees as Bush's detachment from the intricacies of Administration policy and the exigencies of everyday life for most Americans.