Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

DOLE, BOB (b. 1923)

Born on July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kansas, Robert J. "Bob" Dole rose from county attorney to become a five-term U.S. senator, chairman of the Republican Party (1971–72), Republican nominee for vice president (1976), and threetime presidential candidate. In 1996 Dole won the Republican nomination for president but lost in the general election to incumbent President Bill Clinton.

Gravely wounded in the last days of World War II, Dole returned home to Kansas to rehabilitate his shattered body and to complete his education. He was elected to the state legislature in 1951, even before finishing law school at Topeka's Washburn University. Dole impressed state Republicans with his prairie conservatism and capacity for hard work. In 1960, after eight years as Russell County attorney, Dole won the Republican nomination for the U.S. House, where he served for eight years as a solid representative of western Kansas. In 1968 Republican incumbent Sen. Frank Carlson stepped down and encouraged Dole to replace him. After a typically energetic campaign, Dole won the seat and–save for a narrow victory over Rep. Bill Roy in 1974–faced no serious opposition for the remainder of his tenure on Capitol Hill.

A long-time member of the Agriculture and Finance Committees, Bob Dole became a national political figure in the 1970s. He served as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) during the 1972 presidential campaign and was President Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976. Despite his rnc posi tion, Dole played no role in the Watergate affair that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency. As the vice presidential candidate, Dole often took the offensive against the Democrats, thus gaining the reputation as a rough campaigner.

By the late 1970s Dole had risen through the Senate's ranks and had won recognition as an effective legislator whose conservatism was often tempered with pragmatism. After Republicans won control of the Senate in 1980, Dole served first as chairman of the Finance Committee (1981-84) and then as the Republican floor leader (majority leader, 1985-86, 1995-96; minority leader, 1987-94). As a Senate leader Dole demonstrated great talents and even greater patience in forging majorities among his Senate colleagues. Nowhere was this clearer than in his role in "saving" social security in 1983, as he played a central role in putting together a package that was acceptable to Republicans and Democrats in both houses, as well as to the Reagan White House. In 1990, after thirty years of trying, Dole won passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which, with the 1972 food-stamps initiative, represent two of his most important substantive legislative legacies.

In 1996 Bob Dole won the Republican presidential nomination, after which he resigned from the Senate to concentrate his attention on the presidential race. He proved incapable of overcoming a healthy economy and President Clinton's strong performance on the campaign trail, and he returned to private life as an attorney for a prestigious Washington law firm. Dole remained active in international affairs– especially on missions to the former Yugoslavia– and in 1997 President Clinton honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition, Elizabeth Dole's continuing prominence as a Republican presidential hopeful kept Bob Dole active in national politics beyond his own period of officeholding and campaigning.

Burdett A. Loomis University of Kansas

Cramer, Richard Ben. What It Takes. New York: Random House, 1992.

Dole, Bob and Elizabeth. Unlimited Partners. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Thompson, Jake H. Bob Dole. New York: Donald Fine, 1994.

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