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Not Down and Not Out

Bob Dole may have lost a presidential election, but he's not hanging his head. He's joined a law firm, does commercials, speaks at GOP functions and hints that the White House may indeed soon have a Dole.

September 26, 1997|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The physical hurt lasted much longer than the psychic pain. But nearly a year after losing the presidential election, Bob Dole is over both.

"He doesn't really look back," said his wife, Elizabeth. "It's done; you move on. He's on to new challenges--a whole new array of them."

Although he still misses the excitement of a campaign for the White House and the camaraderie of the Senate, Dole is indeed adapting nicely, thank you, to a hectic new life that's equal parts elder statesman, rainmaker extraordinaire, philanthropist, lecturer, commercial huckster and comedian.

"I like to keep moving--hard to hit a moving target," he quipped.

By all accounts, the former Senate majority leader quickly got over his loss to President Clinton. "This was not the defining moment in his life," explains a longtime chum, referring to Dole's war injuries that crippled his right arm.

But it was "months and months" before the swelling in his good hand receded--"from all the handshaking," said Elizabeth Dole, president of the American Red Cross.

Disinclined to look back, Bob Dole nevertheless revealed that his campaign last summer secretly tested public reaction to a Dole-Dole ticket.

He said they tested several possible running mates. "I think we just threw Elizabeth into the pot. Nobody ever thought it was serious."

"The response," according to a former top campaign official, "was what a lot of people predicted: The United States is not ready for a monarchy."

In separate interviews, the Doles recently also acknowledged that they realized, well before election day, that he would not win. Yet they never talked about it, not even to one another.

"We just kept charging, kept doing all the things that needed to be done," Elizabeth Dole recalled.

Today, Bob Dole relishes looking ahead--to 2000.

"The biggest applause I get right now is when I say, 'Well, I got one more chance to get to the White House,' " he said. "People go wild at the mention of Elizabeth."

A few days later, sitting in her elegant Red Cross office two short blocks from the White House, Elizabeth Dole broke into a hearty but practiced laugh and issued this non-denial denial:

"No plans to run. No plans to run. I made a commitment to come back to Red Cross, win or lose. So here I am."

*

For Robert Joseph Dole, now 74, his new life began the day after the election. He arrived at his campaign headquarters near the Capitol in a surprisingly chipper mood.

"We were pretty down--as you can imagine," recalled a former top campaign aide. "But he was relaxed and at ease."

The aide quoted Dole as saying, "We gave it our best shot. Let's move on." Dole's demeanor and remarks, he added, "made the rest of us feel good."

Dole next surfaced in January, appearing in a humorous Visa commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. With no fanfare, he donated his earnings--$250,000--to a variety of charities, including the United Negro College Fund, a national Latino scholarship fund, a homeless shelter and several foundations that serve troubled youths.

Other Dole commercials quickly followed. In one, a TV spot for SuperTarget stores that aired widely in Kansas, Dole sat in a Senate-like office, saying that he remained committed to providing voters with a choice. The punch line: "Paper or plastic?"

Dole has donated all earnings from commercials to charity, with one exception.

As a part of his contract with Dunkin Donuts, Dole is receiving five dozen doughnuts every Monday morning for a year. One such day recently, he presented three dozen to the Red Cross, remarking afterward with a chuckle: "[Elizabeth] had a doughnut party. And they were all excited."

Dole himself avoids such sweets. "Lotsa fat. Lotsa calories," he said disapprovingly. "I've been eating low-fat stuff," he added, patting his mid-section. He has lost 10 pounds since the end of the campaign.

He has also appeared on numerous TV talk shows, including David Letterman's and Jay Leno's, evincing a self-deprecating, sometimes biting sense of humor that all but disappeared during his 1996 campaign.

After cracking a series of one-liners on Letterman in August, the host remarked: "Since we last saw you in November, have you just been sitting around writing jokes?"

Without missing a beat, Dole replied, "Well, don't have anything else to do."

That's not true, of course.

Dole has taken a $600,000-a-year job at Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, one of Washington's premier law firms, whose partners include former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine and former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1988. Dole tells visitors that when he wants a Republican to talk to, he has to bring his miniature schnauzer, Leader, to the office.

There, Dole assiduously avoids doing any direct lobbying. "He doesn't want Elizabeth to have the Hillary problem," said one Dole confidant, referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose career as a lawyer has been a source of controversy for her husband.

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