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Lamenting the Withdrawal of Elizabeth Dole
Political Junkie

Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 5, 1999

Question: I don't know why Elizabeth Dole dropped out of the race. She had good ideas, ideals, and values, a strong personality and the pure political tenacity that it takes to make a good president. Her money situation is unimportant; even if she hopped in a car and zipped from town to town setting up in the streets if she had to, there is no reason why any lack of campaign contributions should have stopped her. Money should not be the key to the White House, now or ever. – Brandy Owens, San Diego, Calif.

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It wasn't just money that forced Dole out of the race. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: It is true Dole could not compete with Steve Forbes's inherited money and George W. Bush's acquired money. But it would be too simple to state that a lack of funds doomed her campaign. By most accounts, she didn't seem to have a clear strategy. Should she "run as a woman" and campaign hard for the female vote? If she had, many observers felt she had a chance to really shake things up, to pull in voters – especially women – who had never participated in the process before. But she seemed torn between selling her candidacy as historic and running as a traditional Republican. She may have been tentative because this was her first bid for public office. You'd have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 to find a first-time candidate who made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

That's not all that troubled Dole's campaign. On guns, she broke with much of her party by endorsing the assault-weapons ban and childproof locks – a move that was well-received by women but alienated pro-gun conservatives. She had access to her husband's list of contributors, but she waited until February to start asking for money, and by then many would-be contributors were already in Bush's corner. And speaking of her husband, Bob Dole didn't do her any favors when he publicly questioned her viability as a candidate and hinted that he would have liked to contribute to John McCain's campaign. So if Bob Dole appeared not to take his wife's candidacy seriously, why should anyone else? This lent credence to the endless stories that what she was really running for was vice president.

There's more. Dole finished an impressive third in the August GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa, but managed to fritter away any momentum by going on vacation for two weeks. She took forever to hire a staff, and once she did she seemed to have trouble holding on to them, losing a campaign manager and two press secretaries in the process.

Certainly money played a part. The Republican establishment has made it no secret that after two straight failures, they are hungry for the White House and are willing to bet the farm (and the bank) on Bush. When she withdrew, Dole had raised less than $5 million, considerably less than what Bush ($57 million) and Steve Forbes ($20.6 million) raised. Still, if it was just money, what's the explanation for the jump in the polls for McCain, whose war chest was dwarfed by Bush and Forbes? When you think of McCain, you think of campaign finance reform, or maybe his crusade against tobacco, or maybe still his suggested call for ground troops in Kosovo. What compelling issue or message do you associate with Dole? There was none.

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Chisholm, in her 1972 bid, won more primary votes than any other female presidential candidate. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

After she withdrew, McCain said Dole "made history." But the truth is, she pulled out well before voters had their say. When all is said and done, the history books will show that it was not Dole and her potential but Shirley Chisholm who made the strongest presidential run by a woman. In the 1972 Democratic primaries, Chisholm, then a congresswoman from Brooklyn, won more than 430,000 votes, and claimed 151 delegates at the Democratic convention that summer in Miami Beach. Chisholm, unlike Dole, was never considered a serious contender for the nomination. But Dole, unlike Chisholm, never got to see how far she could go.

Question: Last month the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Democrats have vowed to make the Senate action a major issue in 2000. Following the defeat of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Democrats tried to make it the major issue in the 1920 campaign and suffered one of the most crushing defeats in American political history. Do you think this year's treaty defeat will be an important issue? – Earl W. Williams, Elm Springs, Ark.

Answer: No, but not for a lack of trying. Democrats see the Senate's rejection as reckless partisanship, and Vice President Gore devoted his campaign's first TV commercial to the issue. The treaty's defeat will fit nicely with the Democrats' drive to paint the GOP-controlled Congress as out of step with the political mainstream and beholden to far-right conservatives. But Republicans insist the treaty was flawed because there was no adequate way to verify whether other nations were cheating.

Both sides accuse the other of playing politics, and both are right. Democrats demanded that Majority Leader Trent Lott hold hearings on the treaty, which President Clinton signed more than three years ago. If Lott refused, they threatened to tie up Senate business. They figured this would embarrass Lott into taking some action. But Lott called their bluff and announced a truncated hearing process, to be followed by a vote. The only way to get to 67 votes (2/3 of the Senate) – the required number needed to pass a treaty – is through bipartisanship, but handling it this way doomed cooperation practically from the start. White House officials, realizing they were outfoxed, eventually asked Lott to pull the treaty from the calendar, hoping that would lead to negotiations. But conservative Republicans were in no mood to negotiate and wanted to see the treaty defeated. And it was.

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Voters rejected Wilson's use of Versailles as a political issue in 1918 and 1920. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Of course, politics played a big part in the demise of the Versailles Treaty as well. Back then, President Woodrow Wilson kept Senate Republicans out of the peace process and refused to name any prominent Republicans to the talks in Paris, which were designed to keep the peace after World War I. Once he sent the treaty to Capitol Hill, he refused to accept any Republican revisions. Republicans were especially incensed over language that gave the League of Nations – not Congress – the power to decide where and when American troops would be used. Republicans, led by Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.), saw this as a violation of U.S. sovereignty and insisted on changes. But Wilson was in no mood to agree. When Senate Republicans rejected his proposals, the president broke off negotiations and left town, touring the country and making it a partisan issue. He went before voters in the midterm elections of 1918 and campaigned strongly for Democrats. Instead, voters shared Republicans' reservations about the treaty, giving the GOP control of the Senate and fortifying its control over the House. As Wilson's health failed he grew more recalcitrant, alienating even some of his fellow pro-treaty Democrats. When the Republican Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty in November 1919 and again in March of 1920, Wilson insisted on making it an issue in the 1920 presidential election. Bad move. The Democrats split over the treaty and their presidential nominee, James Cox, was buried in a landslide. Republicans elected Warren Harding president and gained 11 more seats in the Senate. And a 20-year period of isolationism had begun.


"Political Junkie" Live: Ken Rudin will take your questions on campaigns and elections live online on "Free Media," Thursday, Nov. 11, at 1 p.m. EST. Send in your questions now.


Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin


 
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