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  • With Drawing Power, Dole Seeks Staying Power

    Elizabeth Dole
    Republican presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole speaks at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, on Friday. (AP)
    By David Von Drehle
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, October 17, 1999; Page A7

    MOUNT VERNON, Iowa The crowd is so large inside the Cornell College student center that people are stuck outside, peering through the windows for a glimpse of Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole.

    The room where she is scheduled to speak holds about 75 people comfortably. Twice that many are jammed inside. When the crowd continues to gather, the event is hastily moved to a larger room, which quickly fills to capacity perhaps 300 people in all.

    It's like this everywhere she goes. At previous stops on this two-day campaign swing, Dole filled a banquet hall, a high school gym, a lecture hall and a hospital auditorium. Her campaign doesn't have much money, and it doesn't have a strong organization. It has one strength: Elizabeth Dole, one of the three most-admired women on the planet, according to one Gallup poll.

    People want to see her. She's famous, an icon and role model. Dale Johnson showed up at a Dole campaign event in Council Bluffs on Thursday with her 6-year-old niece, Mollie Frederickson. "Whenever Mollie's manners aren't good at the dinner table, we tell her Elizabeth Dole is never going to invite her to dinner at the White House like that," Johnson said.

    But sweet as that sentiment may be, it's off message. Dole does not want to symbolize good table manners. She wants to be president. Out on the campaign trail, she shows only her formidable side.

    Dole's schedule goes mostly like clockwork. Her speeches are fact-filled and prosaic. She refers to the president's "bully pulpit," but the tone of her stump speech is less like a sermon than a statement to stockholders. She seems especially true to herself when she tells voters that "president is a CEO-type job."

    Indeed, Dole is all business. Her report to potential shareholders in the Dole 2000 IPO follows a simple logic: First, she assures her listeners that it doesn't matter that she is undercapitalized. Texas Gov. George W. Bush has some $37 million in the bank, and publisher Steve Forbes has a vast personal fortune to draw on, while she has less than a million on hand. But she has shown, she says, that she can turn out supporters "without spending millions of dollars."

    Next, she reports on the polls. Not the ones that show her falling back into the Republican pack, like the Mason-Dixon poll last month that had her running a distant third place among Iowa GOP voters, barely in third place. She stresses the upbeat: "Every poll since February 1 that I know of shows me beating Al Gore," she boasts. Another of her favorites, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, shows her with the highest favorability rating of any candidate, Republican or Democrat.

    The rest of her stump speech is a variable mixture part resume, part strategic plan. Depending on her mood and rhythms, she emphasizes past or future. In Council Bluffs on Thursday, she was all programs. She promised two domestic priorities as president: improving education and fighting drugs. Both, she said, hinged on a strong military and a muscular, pragmatic foreign policy.

    When she dwells on her experience, as she did Friday at Cornell, Dole seems bent on proving a point no one has contested. If Donald Trump can talk of running for president, why should Elizabeth Dole have to justify herself? Half-past nine is a fairly early hour for most college students, and a number of them fell asleep as the two-time Cabinet secretary drew lessons from her work as a federal trade commissioner in the 1970s.

    What you won't hear much of in an Elizabeth Dole stump speech is poetry. She doesn't sketch the future in the colors of a Reaganesque morning or strum the heartstrings in a Mario Cuomo blues. Her future is full of 10-point plans . . . a new "3 R's of Education" . . . twice as many Border Patrol agents, all of them loaded with new technology.

    She complains about Washington bureaucrats, but as every half-hour speech reveals, it takes one to know one. Her plan to fight drugs, she told an audience in southwestern Iowa, would deal with "source countries" and "transit countries" and would stop at nothing to win. "I certainly would have decertification on the table as an option," she said.

    All business.

    And CEO Dole is tough, too. On education: "We have to restore discipline in the classroom." On immigration: "As far as I'm concerned, if it's illegal, that's it." On foreign policy: "Since when did we trust the North Koreans on a promise?" On defense: "I believe in peace through strength."

    Early in her campaign, Dole seemed to be moving leftward, calling for stricter gun control and playing down abortion. Not anymore. Now she is striding a firm rightward line: opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to public schooling for illegal aliens, support for the new F-22 fighter jet and so on.

    Is this the curse of a female candidate never let 'em see you emote? "I was disappointed," a Cornell College sophomore, Joanna Noyer, said after hearing Dole. "She didn't address any women's issues. She didn't talk about domestic abuse, sexual assault, abortion. She was talking to college students, but she didn't mention the cost of tuition."

    Perhaps it was revealing that Dole turned poetic only once during two days in Iowa--at a banquet designed to honor women's achievement.

    Dole was every bit as conservative as before, but she seemed free of a need to prove her toughness. She showed her heart: "What happened to that simple gift, a world without worry?" she asked. She wondered whether "the substitution of regulation for responsibility is a sort of Puritanism for people who have forgotten about character." She said that "while we can never return to an age of innocence . . . we can move on to an age of rediscovery."

    It did not last long. Then it was back to familiar strains. "It's time to dust off the 10th Amendment," she announced in her Washington shorthand.

    That rang a bell.

    The 10th Amendment--oh, yes! It was the battle cry of another prosaic Republican who had a hard time showing heart. Another candidate who couldn't seem to speak without lapsing into bureaucratese. What was his name?

    Bob Dole.


    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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