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  •   Dole Gets Practice in Campaigning

    By R.H. Melton
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 19, 1999; Page A16

    RICHMOND, March 18 – With the "Star Wars" theme song pounding the eardrums of nearly 8,000 Virginians, Elizabeth Dole brought her presidential themes to this old Southern capital today, preaching a hopeful yet stern message to redirect an American society that she said "no longer blushes."

    "This country that has come so far has lost so much," said Dole, capping a day-long program of motivational speeches here at the city's huge downtown coliseum. The nation, she said, needs to rediscover a spirit of "freedom, tolerance, compassion."

    When Dole, a Republican, reminded her audience, many of them small business owners and sales representatives, that she had formed an exploratory committee last week for the 2000 presidential race, many in the crowd shouted, "Run, Liddy, run!"

    "My goodness!" she exclaimed back.

    Her 30-minute address, which followed inspirational speeches by famed runner Jackie Joyner-Kersee, novelist and native son Tom Wolfe and actor Christopher Reeve, touched on her long record of public service in the Cabinet, including a stint as labor secretary, where she worked to resolve a devastating strike in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.

    She alluded several times to her husband, the unsuccessful presidential candidate -- "I love to speak of Bob," she said -- and sounded very much like him when talking about a simpler, safer America where parents left their doors unlocked and children grew up with innocent and ambitious dreams.

    Today, "what they lack is the ease of living in a world without worry," she said.

    Dwarfed on a giant stage in front of a starry red, white and blue backdrop, Dole beamed at the crowd as clouds of confetti fell and sparklers shot up in the air at the opening of her remarks.

    Minutes beforehand, she met with Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), who is leaning toward endorsing the presidential bid of Dole rival George W. Bush, governor of Texas. Dole said in an interview they talked about the "tremendous job" Gilmore is doing in education, defense industry issues, high technology and tax cuts. She would not say whether the two Republicans discussed a Gilmore endorsement.

    Dole did say her exploratory effort is going "extremely well," and the speaking engagements, put together by success guru Peter Lowe in Florida, represent "an opportunity, certainly, to share your thoughts. It's something that people seem to really relate to."

    Dole, who has commanded as much as $20,000 per speech, has appeared at more than 10 Lowe events in the past several years, promoting herself as a focused, "Peak Performance Woman" who can help her seminar and audiotape audiences figure out "why men think and react the way they do, how to stay in control, get recognized and respected."

    Spokeswoman Joyce Campbell said Dole would continue giving paid speeches until she becomes an official presidential candidate. Campbell refused to say how much Dole had received for today's speech or how many other paid appearances are on her schedule.

    Last week, Dole spoke at a Lowe seminar in Las Vegas and appeared at a packed MCI Center in the District on Tuesday with former NFL star Joe Montana.

    Her reception here was mixed.

    "I don't think she's a strong speaker at all," said Diana Schneider, a federal government employee. "She doesn't say what she's going to do."

    Gloria Brooks, a NationsBank employee and one of the few African Americans in the crowd, liked Dole. "She has that voice to get you interested," said Brooks, who added she thinks it's high time a woman served in the White House.

    Dirk Katstra, who traveled here from Charlottesville with seven colleagues at the University of Virginia's student aid foundation, thought Dole was down to earth.

    "She's personable," Katstra said, "like an average citizen. She doesn't appear to be high-falutin."

    "She's dynamic," said Terri Forbes, a registered nurse, who said she would "probably" vote for Dole should she run for president.

    Dole railed against the nation's "pornographic culture" and heavy traffic in illegal drugs, an issue she said she cared about deeply. "My passion, ladies and gentlemen, doesn't come from polls," she said, adding that the White House needs to send a clear message that "drugs aren't cool; they kill."

    Dressed in a bright red suit and pearl necklace, Dole seemed generally at ease with a stump speech to folks who had paid $49 apiece to hear her and the others today.

    Dole said there was a new era in which "do your own thing is giving way to respect your parents." And, though childless herself, she praised motherhood.

    "That's a great career, isn't it?" Dole said.

    Staff writer Ceci Connolly in Washington contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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