The Two Sides to Elizabeth Dole
By Deb Riechmann
Associated Press Writer
Monday, Sept. 20, 1999; 1:52 p.m. EDT WASHINGTON Nobody has stumped in high heels as far as Elizabeth Dole.
For three decades, she has marched around Washington working for five presidents, campaigned across America for her husband and traversed dusty roads at home and abroad as director of the American Red Cross.
Her choice in footwear: "Something that has a solid heel and a soft material. You do have to watch the material because if it's too firm, your feet will be aching by night," Dole said, slipping a pump off her stocking foot to display its 3-inch heel.
Like her ideal traveling shoes, this presidential candidate is cushy on the outside with a sturdy soul. Her demeanor is smooth as suede; her resolve, tough like leather.
At a home for low-income seniors in Washington, Dole waltzes from table to table offering her patented syrupy greetings. "How are you-u-u-u-?," she says with a soft Carolina drawl. "How are you doing? Thank you for being here. Good to see you-u-u."
But under this satiny persona is a scrappy, disciplined, take-charge woman.
"She was pretty bold for a girl," says Ann Morgan, who went to high school with Dole in Salisbury, N.C. "Everybody knew she was a teen-age girl, but everybody knew she had something the rest of us didn't have.
"We jokingly said she'll probably be the first lady president. She said 'Ya-all are crazy.'"
At 63, Dole is making speeches in New Hampshire, signing bumper stickers and spinning upsidedown on the Loop-O-Plane carnival ride in Des Moines on her quest to become leader of the free world. If she succeeds, Dole would be America's first female president. Her campaign motto: "Let's make history."
Right now, she trails Texas Gov. George W. Bush. She must convince voters she's not running for vice president.
Lyn Nofziger, one of President Reagan's core conservative aides, notes that Dole started out a Democrat, became an independent when she worked in the Nixon administration and then joined the Republican Party in the mid 1970s about the time she married Bob Dole.
"I think she's probably more conservative than she was 20 years ago, but basically, she's a believer in big government the government doing things and making people do things," he says. As transportation secretary, "she gave us that damn middle tail light in the back of cars. Nobody has ever told me how many lives it's saved."
Nofziger doesn't always agree with her politics, but he warmly recalls when Dole visited his daughter who was dying of cancer. "And she didn't just duck in and duck out," he said.
Dole is stepmother to Robin, her husband Bob's daughter from his previous marriage, but she never had children of her own. She's got maternal instincts, nonetheless.
Roy Clason, who worked with her at the Red Cross, says when he got sick with fever in Somalia, Dole knocked on his hotel room door and handed him Tylenol wrapped in a Kleenex "like a mother would do for a child."
If Dole privately considered running for president before, it wasn't until about a year ago that she sought counsel from her friends and advice on discerning God's will.
Her nephew, John Hanford III, said a pastor advised her last December to run if she thought it was the only thing she could do. Hanford, an adviser on international religious liberty, disagreed.
"I said 'Elizabeth, I think sometimes decisions are more difficult than that,'" he said. "I told her that in my opinion it's less a bolt of lightning and more like lights lining up over time like a runway."
Throughout her life, Dole has lighted one beacon after another.
Bachelor's degree from Duke University. Master's degree in education. Harvard law degree. Deputy assistant to President Nixon for consumer affairs. Member of the Federal Trade Commission. Assistant to President Reagan for public liaison. First female transportation secretary. Labor secretary in President Bush's Cabinet. President of the American Red Cross.
In between, she's shadowed her husband during three national campaigns. Coming and going from their apartment at the Watergate, the Doles hit the campaign trail eight months after their marriage when President Ford picked Bob Dole as his running mate in 1976. They lost. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1992 and 1996.
Now with her campaign for the presidency, the tables have turned. This time around, they're coming and going from a hotel. They had to move out of their apartment temporarily while workers tore out walls to expand it into the unit they bought next door the apartment where Monica Lewinsky and her mother lived during the impeachment drama.
Even as a tyke, little "Liddy" a childhood nickname she wished people would forget had a lot going on. She was neighborhood ringleader.
"I was always coming up with the ideas to 'Let's do this. Let's do that. Let's go off to that other block.' We weren't supposed to cross the street," she said. "Sometimes I led them into things like walking across the ice on someone's fish pond and falling in."
Most of the time, she was eager to please. When she forgot to take a book to her second-grade class, she considered herself "such a total failure" that she cried all the way home.
The next year, she earned her first presidential title: President of the third-grade bird club. She lost her election for high school class president, but was elected student government president at Duke University and was May queen of the campus.
Her brother, John Hanford Jr., calls his sister a "goal maker." She comes by it naturally, he says.
Their 98-year-old mother, who still lives in the family's English-style house in Salisbury, is a gracious and personable woman long active in school, church and historic preservation. Their late father worked tirelessly in his floral and construction businesses.
"My father was always a person to do things absolutely right and proper," her brother said. "Every morning he was up a couple of hours before any other member of the family, charting his day's course. Consequently, he covered an enormous amount of ground, but everything had to be done to the "nth"degree."
Dole is a list maker, too. Her coworkers say she is punctual, devours briefing books, has little patience for incomplete work and doesn't like surprises. She's not always buttoned-up, says Wayne Valis, who worked with her in the White House and now helps her raise money.
"I've seen her sip a glass of wine," Valis said with a playful conspiratorial whisper. And she even smokes a cigarette now and then. "Maybe once a year to relieve stress, but then she apologizes profusely."
Dole says she's battled perfectionism.
"It has taken me years to see that you don't have to always strive for perfection that perfection itself can become a kind of social tyranny and that there is most definitely a point of diminishing returns," Dole has written.
Still, on a hot day in July, Dole set up an ironing board in the restroom of a public library in Ankeny, Iowa, so she could press a white suit that had gotten wrinkled on the plane.
Her seamless campaign appearances and flawless speeches have led her critics to call Dole canned, robotic, too rehearsed.
"I think she believes that if you don't prepare very, very carefully, it will show," said Jean Eberhart Dubofsky, who roomed with Dole at Harvard and later became a Colorado Supreme Court justice. "You plan for everything. You don't leave anything to chance."
Bob Dole says his wife "puts a smile" on the face of the GOP with its hard-boiled image something he had trouble shaking when he ran for president in 1996. But she is no pushover.
That was clear at the senior home where friends gathered in July to celebrate the former senator's 76th birthday. Candles on his cake were lighted. A piano man started playing "Happy Birthday," but Dole wasn't finished with her speech.
"Just one more minute," she said, cutting off the music.
A aide carrying in the cake stopped in her tracks. Dole talked on. The candles dripped. Finally, she led the singing.
It was his birthday, but her show.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press