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Dole leaves race, blaming lack of cash

Observers say her campaign foundered not because of her gender but because of her own shortcomings as a candidate.

By MARY JACOBY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 1999


WASHINGTON -- Elizabeth Dole's campaign slogan was "Let's Make History." But in dropping out of the presidential race for lack of funds, she acknowledged she hadn't quite done so in the way she had hoped.

"I think what we've done is pave the way for the person who will be the first woman president," the former American Red Cross head said in announcing her departure from the Republican field Wednesday.

As the first viable female presidential candidate, Dole blazed a trail. Her gender both distinguished her from the other candidates and attracted women who had not been active in politics to her campaign. But gender bias was not the reason she failed.

"She was definitely taken seriously as a presidential candidate," said Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Jacksonville, an old friend of Dole and her Florida finance chairman. "The polls have shown the country is ready to elect a qualified woman candidate."

Rather, there seemed to be a palpable uneasiness with Dole as a candidate, not as a woman.

Her campaign seemed disorganized, and it failed to capitalize on momentum gained by mostly favorable early publicity about her candidacy and her strong third-place finish in the Iowa Republican straw poll in August.

Early polls showed her a strong but distant second to the GOP front-runner, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. But they also showed her victorious over Vice President Al Gore in a putative general election matchup. In recent weeks, however, she had been losing support to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam War hero known for bucking the Republican Party on tobacco regulation, campaign finance reform and other issues.

Another factor was a canned speaking style that often left audiences deflated. When she announced her presidential exploratory committee in Iowa, for example, Dole recycled the same talk she had given scores of times for pay at inspirational seminars by Tampa-based Peter Lowe.

When she departed from her prepared text, she often seemed flustered, once chattering to a bewildered audience in Iowa not about the issues but how difficult it is to live out of a single suitcase on the campaign trail.

"People were really disappointed that she couldn't seem to get it together and energize them," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. "She couldn't get beyond the Oprah syndrome. The style superseded the substance, and she quickly got the image of the sorority-sister candidate."

Dole on Wednesday disputed the suggestion her campaign was not about ideas. "Along with the symbolism, there was also substance: the substance of ideas," she said.

Indeed, Dole made a splash this year at a candidates forum in New Hampshire by coming out for gun controls in a state where Republican voters strongly support Second Amendment rights. She tried to counter any doubts about a woman commander-in-chief by advocating a strong military and U.S. intervention in Kosovo.

But many of her other policy stances seemed bland and safe, such as her opposition to pornography on the Internet and her support of good schools.

And like other Republican candidates, Dole fudged the abortion issue. While insisting she is against abortion, she refused to affirm the Republican Party's official call for a constitutional amendment outlawing the procedure.

In Dole's view, her inability to stay in the race came down to one overwhelming factor: money. She didn't have it, and others did.

Bush has raised a record-setting $58-million so far. He reported nearly $38-million in the bank on Sept. 30, the most recent date for public disclosure.

Wealthy business publisher Steve Forbes is contributing his own money to his campaign. His committee has already spent $18.8-million. McCain, who is also chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, had $2.1-million cash on hand after raising $7.3-million.

Dole, who began pursuing the nomination after she left the Red Cross in January, lacked the political and fundraising networks or deep pockets of her rivals. She raised $4.8-million and reported only $860,719 in the bank.

Because Dole was not an elected official with power to watch out for the interests of donors, there was little incentive for contributors who had always supported her husband, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, also to give to her.

"Already I have attended over 70 fundraising events," Mrs. Dole said. "Even then, those (top) rivals would enjoy a 75- or 80-to-1 cash advantage. Perhaps I could handle 2-to-1 or 10-to-1, but not 80-to-1."

She said that she had "hoped to compensate by attracting new people to the political process" but that "the bottom line remains money."

"In fact, it's kind of a Catch-22. Inadequate funding limits the number of staff at headquarters and in key states. It restricts your ability to communicate with voters. It places a ceiling on travel and staff. Over time, it becomes nearly impossible to sustain an effective campaign," Dole said.

About half of Dole's contributors were women, and her national campaign finance chairman was a Greenville, S.C., businesswoman, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter.

"Part of the problem in our country is that women aren't used to giving to political campaigns," Fowler said. "We've got to get them used to it."

Erica Henri of the Women's Campaign Fund, which raises money for candidates in both political parties who support abortion rights, agreed.

"I think it is harder for women to raise money, and that's where a lot of her support came from. Women still aren't used to giving as much as men have in the past. It's only been in the last 20 years or so that women have gotten involved in the political system," Henri said.

She also noted that women on average still earn much less than men, around 74 cents on the dollar. "Women make less money, so they don't have as many resources" as men, Henri said.

Dole is a two-time Cabinet secretary, serving as secretary of transportation under President Ronald Reagan and secretary of labor under President George Bush, father of the Republican front-runner. She delivered her remarks with her husband, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, at her side.

She is now in a strong position for the Republican vice presidential nomination. Dole declined to say whether she is interested in the No. 2 position, but her supporters are enthusiastic.

"I think she should be vice president. Why not?" said Madeline McElveen, the mother of Dole's top fundraiser. "I think we could force her to do that."

Dole did not endorse another Republican for president. "I think today is about her leaving, it's not about endorsing," Fowler said.

Fowler herself has endorsed Bush, who phoned Fowler early Wednesday afternoon to express his thanks.

Dole is the fifth candidate to withdraw from the race for the Republican nomination.

The others are former Vice President Dan Quayle; House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich; Lamar Alexander, the former education secretary and Tennessee governor; and New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, who left the Republican Party to run for president as an independent. TV commentator Pat Buchanan is expected to announce next week that he is leaving the GOP to run for the Reform Party nomination.

Remaining GOP candidates include social conservative activist Gary Bauer, radio commentator Alan Keyes and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

"Let's put things in perspective," USF's MacManus said. "She still did a lot better than John Kasich, Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander, who'd been campaigning for four years since the last time he ran. She outlasted some very serious male candidates."


-- Times staff writer Vanita Gowda contributed research to this report.

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