Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), his campaign still reeling from its unexpected nine-point loss to Vice President Bush in New Hampshire on Tuesday, returned to Washington last night for strategy sessions aimed at curing symptoms of disorganization in his presidential effort.
Dole had planned to be on the road campaigning for almost two weeks but changed his schedule, canceling participation in last night's GOP debate in Dallas, calling it little more than a "Bush pep rally."
Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), chairman of Dole's New Hampshire campaign, said yesterday, "We have to make changes and they will be made."
Several insiders agreed with Rudman's conclusion that decision-making, especially in dealings with the news media, "has not been adequately coordinated," and there was finger-pointing by several people.
"Nobody is in charge," said one senior consultant who asked not to be identified. "You can't get anyone to make a decision."
Some speculated that Dole might turn to an old friend and adviser, John P. Sears, who ran Ronald Reagan's 1976 campaign and was fired as campaign manager in the early stages of Reagan's 1980 campaign.
Sears, a Washington lawyer, said yesterday he had spoken with Dole after the New Hampshire defeat, but not about taking a more active role in the campaign.
"I told him to get a vision," Sears said. "I think he does understand now that he shouldn't be out there with nothing positive to say about where the hell he wants to take the country."
Dole, irritated about questions about the state of his campaign, told reporters yesterday, "We're in this race to win, not to nitpick every day about some little thing that may have happened." He said later, "I don't think I'm dispirited. I've got a bad cold. Maybe you'll get one, one day."
It was unclear which advisers were to meet with Dole for what the senator said would be a strategy session to prepare for the voting on March 8, when 20 states and territories will select delegates. Several of the top strategists of the campaign are out of town. Campaign Chairman William E. Brock is in Tennessee on a personal trip; his deputy, Bernard Windon, is resting at his home in Chicago for several days, Political Director Skip Watts is in California.
Dole denies that he plans to overhaul the campaign, but said Brock might. "I'm not making any changes. Bill Brock may be looking at some things. I'm not running the campaign," he said.
Interviews over the past two days indicate that Dole was unprepared for a loss in New Hampshire, especially of that size, and complained publicly that the campaign had "sat on its hands" the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the primary, a period when tracking polls indicated Bush turned the race around.
Rudman said that six days before the voting, he had urged a television ad answering Bush's charges that Dole would condone tax increases, "but we couldn't get one on the air."
Don Ringe, who was the paid media adviser in New Hampshire, said someone in the campaign had overruled what he thought was an agreement to keep on the air a Dole ad portraying Bush as a passive bystander in Washington decision-making, but in fact it was given much less air time in the last days of the campaign. "I found out over the weekend that someone changed the traffic instructions and clamped the lid on it. . . . They got faked out. No one talked to me. They made their own decision."
Ringe said that he is off salary now, and "I don't consider myself a consultant to the campaign because I haven't been consulted."
Dole erupted in anger over Bush's ads on national television Tuesday, accusing Bush of lying about his record, and has continued to complain about ads and to regret his campaign's failure to respond to them.
Yesterday, the campaign produced a document in Brock's name accusing Bush of refusing to take a stand on tax increases. The two-page statement outlined a handful of statements made by Bush on tax increases and called on the vice president to "make up his mind on taxes."
In California, where he is meeting with Dole campaign supporters, Watts said he was "baffled" by suggestions that the national campaign was disorganized and drifting. "You shift gears from intense concentration on one tiny state to broadening resources and people," a process now going on, he said. "Bill Brock is in control," he said.