Here's something I don't get: Why isn't Elizabeth Dole's campaign for president getting more attention?
Remember when Dole gave her spectacular performance on behalf of her husband, Bob, at the Republican National Convention in the summer of 1996? People went wild: "Here is the candidate." "Dump Bob, bring on Elizabeth!"
A Washington Post story toward the end of the 1996 race cited a poll showing that the majority of Republicans believed that "the campaign has improved her stock as a future candidate . . . some polls show she is more popular than her husband or his running mate, Jack Kemp."
Whatever the outcome in the election, the story said, "Scholars have reserved a place for Elizabeth Dole in the campaign history texts . . . no other wife has drawn so much speculation about her own political plans in the closing days of a campaign."
So what happened? Elizabeth Dole did decide to run and -- except for a bit of fizz at the very beginning -- she's hardly been noticed, at least in the national press.
Such was my impression, anyway. I decided to check it out by looking up a few newspaper references. Here's what I found:
In two recent weeks of Washington Post coverage, the archives showed 15 articles referring to Dole. Picking a couple of candidates for comparison, there were, in the same time period, 22 references to John McCain and 23 to Steve Forbes. George W. Bush had 46 references.
An Associated Press search for the same 14 days turned up 24 references for Dole, 33 for McCain and 61 for Forbes. Bush had 168. Looking farther back -- checking in this case for the number of times a candidate's name appeared in a headline -- over a period of 60 days in The Post, Dole bagged five, Forbes and McCain eight each, and Bush 45.
Now I know Bush has swamped everybody else, in money, endorsements, evident support -- everything (though the degree of the swamping in terms of press coverage this early seems disproportionate). But how about Forbes and McCain, to pick two candidates? Why are they getting substantially more coverage than Dole?
Why is a candidate who is unique in the annals of presidential politics, draws large crowds, and came in third in the Iowa straw poll -- after Bush, who has practically been crowned, and Forbes, who virtually bought second place -- getting so little coverage?
As it happens, I've heard a number of speculations about this. Let's run through a few:
Hillary Clinton is running (all but certainly) for the Senate from New York, and her coverage is drowning out Dole's. Huh? There's a former-political-wife-turned-candidate allotment in the media, and Hillary's sucking it up?
Dole is not a serious candidate. True, she's never run for public office -- unusual indeed among those who actually achieve the presidency. In fact, it normally works only for generals. Though a woman going to Harvard Law School in the early 1960s probably did have something close to a wartime experience, Dole is no general. But, with 30 years of public service, including two Cabinet positions and seven years heading the Red Cross, she has a very strong resume. Much stronger than, say, that of Forbes.
Bush has swamped everyone else. Yes. But candidacies have been known to burst as quickly as they ballooned. And if his does, she'd be a very logical place for voters to turn -- especially if we'd been hearing as much about her as we are about other members of the pack.
Coverage is about personality and celebrity these days, and Dole doesn't score. This is utter baloney. Think of the color stories to be written about this first serious woman presidential candidate. Her crowds are full of women, including many who've never before been politically active. And she has raised a higher proportion of funds from women than any other candidate. What is this new breed of supporter like? And how, come to think of it, is Bob doing on the trail? Is he ever on the trail?
These theories don't wash. So, the other day, among a group of friends, I came right out and did it: I asked whether the public might be taking Dole less seriously, whether she might be having more trouble raising money and getting media coverage, because she's a woman -- a question that is looked upon with great disdain these days.
Of course not, came the refrain. We're beyond that.