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  •   Dole to Set Presidential Committee

    Elizabeth Dole
    Elizabeth Dole. (AP File Photo)
    By David S. Broder
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 5, 1999; Page A20

    Elizabeth Hanford Dole will announce next Wednesday she is forming an exploratory committee as a step toward seeking the Republican presidential nomination, aides said yesterday.

    The former Cabinet secretary and wife of 1996 nominee Robert J. Dole will declare her intentions in Des Moines, Iowa the first delegate selection caucuses will be held in that state 11 months from now. Although she is a latecomer to the race, her early poll standings stamp Dole as the strongest female presidential aspirant in history. The exploratory committee will allow her to begin formal fund-raising and organizing efforts.

    Dole, who stepped down two months ago as president of the American Red Cross, also announced the hiring of several veteran GOP operatives to head her first venture into elective politics.

    Thomas A. Daffron, until recently chief of staff to Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), will manage the exploratory committee. Ari Fleischer, until now the spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.), will be the campaign communications director. Kieran Mahoney, a New York campaign consultant, will be a senior adviser to the committee and Linda DiVall, who has polled for many Republican congressional candidates and for the 1996 presidential nomination campaign of Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), is the pollster.

    Dole, who campaigned extensively across the country in her husband's three bids for the White House, enters the race bracketed with Texas Gov. George W. Bush as the early leaders in the polls. Bush is scheduled to announce his exploratory committee on Sunday.

    "Everyone recognizes Governor Bush is a strong candidate," Daffron said yesterday, "but we hope to be competitive. We are starting a little late, but there is a lot of support out there."

    The USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll taken last month and reported in yesterday's editions of the newspaper said Dole matched Bush with an 88 percent favorable rating among Republicans and led him, 75 percent to 69 percent, in favorability among all voters.

    Dole has drawn large crowds at "non-political" appearances in New Hampshire and Iowa since she left the Red Cross and disclosed she was considering a presidential race. Aides said hundreds of people volunteered at those events to work for her if she runs.

    Daffron said he was struck by Dole's "ability to create enthusiasm in a lot of different pockets, both regionally and ideologically. My left-wing Democratic daughter and a good friend who is a conservative Christian lady both say they want to help. She is someone who is a healer, a unifier. ... I think there's an opportunity for her to be a candidate around whom people can coalesce."

    Although he has not run a presidential campaign, Daffron, 60, has extensive experience in politics and government. After breaking in with former senator Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), Daffron began a long-term association with William S. Cohen, the former representative and senator from Maine, now the secretary of defense and lone Republican in the Clinton Cabinet.

    With brief breaks, he worked as head of Cohen's congressional staff and manager of his campaigns from 1973 through 1990, then left government to serve as senior vice president and head of business operations for the Baltimore Orioles until 1994. For the last four years, he headed Thompson's Senate office.

    Daffron said he helped Susan Collins, another former Cohen staffer, in her losing 1994 campaign for governor of Maine and in her successful Senate race two years later, "so I have some experience with the challenges facing a woman candidate," but this is the first time he has worked with Dole.

    While Daffron's background is mainly with moderate or liberal Republicans, Mahoney, the general consultant, is the son of the founder of the New York Conservative Party and a veteran of the New York campaigns of Gov. George E. Pataki and former senator Alfonse M. D'Amato.

    Fleischer worked for Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) before joining the Ways and Means Committee staff and DiVall, whose clients have spanned the ideological range of the GOP, has tried, with intermittent success, to focus her party on "the gender gap" that persistently shows Democratic candidates receiving a larger share of the female vote.

    "Not only is Elizabeth Dole a viable candidate for president," DiVall said yesterday, "but there is clearly a historic opportunity here to draw women into the party."

    Despite suggestions that Dole's realistic target is the vice presidency, DiVall said, "Her goal is the presidency. No one on her team is looking at settling for No. 2."

    Researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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