He is a paradoxical candidate at a time of massive grass-roots disaffection with Washington. He has spent half his life here, long enough to grow old, playing more roles than a veteran character actor. Even the epithets are evidence of this: Nixon's Doberman pinscher, Ford's hatchet man, Bush's water carrier, deal-maker for Gingrich's revolution.

The presidential candidacy of Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) is now a war zone for the deep, inner conflicts of the American electorate. At 72, he leads the Republican race for the very reason that he is suddenly vulnerable to a multimillionaire political amateur: He is one of Washington's most accomplished politicians, a master mechanic of this messy system of money, influence, deals, egos and, yes, dreams.

Indeed, it is hard to hate Washington and like Dole. Even on the hustings, with his arcane lawmakers' lingo, he can seem to be speaking from the engine room of the grimy, hissing, clanging, unretrofitted factory that is Washington in the public mind.

His appearances on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley" capture him ensconced in an insiders' culture. Nobody tells viewers what the in-crowd knows -- that one of Dole's interviewers, syndicated columnist George Will, is married to a senior Dole campaign official, and another, Brinkley, vacations with Dole and agribusiness magnate Dwayne O. Andreas, Dole's top political benefactor. His company co-sponsors Brinkley's program.

But if all of this has made Dole vulnerable, it also gives him an opportunity to summon an essential side of his character. While he is a master at amassing and manipulating power, he is defined equally by a lifelong struggle against vulnerability, from childhood in rural Kansas, to a Herculean battle to overcome paralysis after World War II, to a political career in which principle has been ever at war with survival.

Vulnerability has haunted and driven Dole for most of his life, according to dozens of interviews with his friends, colleagues, aides and rivals from Russell, Kan., to Washington. It explains his fear of deficits, his so-called mean streak, his periodic stands for the poor and minorities, his occasional, public crying jags that seem so out of character, his recurrent opportunism now evident in his tacking from right to center and back to right again in an effort to shore up his lead. It even helps explain why he is so chronically unable to project a heartfelt vision of how he would lead the country.

"He doesn't have that comfort with himself that would allow him to say, I'm Bob Dole, and I am who I am,' " said Tully Plesser, Dole's pollster off and on since 1974. "Where he comes from, what he's accumulated from his life experience, the injury -- all these things stand in the way of that sense of comfort people have with themselves."

This is the irony of Dole being cast by opponents as the ultimate insider: He remains in his own mind the poor boy against the privileged. He sponsors tax breaks for corporate patrons, but voices populist distaste for "big corporations getting tax breaks they can't justify." He fulminates at Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr., a publishing heir now using his wealth to buy political success with ads savaging Dole as a Washington deal-cutter. "Well, I'd like to know a lot of the deals he's cut," Dole has responded. "He's gotten a lot of money, made a lot of money, inherited a lot of it, I suppose."

By contrast, Dole reached his berth the slow, hard way, dutifully waiting in line behind presidents he believed less worthy than he, fighting every day to compensate for a right arm withered and useless from war wounds.

He is a career politician who cannot perform the most elementary political act -- shaking hands -- except by reaching over awkwardly with his left hand to intercept people forever grabbing for his right. In a culture built around power lunches and dinners, he cannot cut his meat. A consummate legislator, who lives by commitments to colleagues over points as fine as the use of "shall" versus "may," he is unable to make notes of his promises because his right hand can't hold a pad and he does not write easily with his left.

For 35 years in Washington, Dole has kept near him a memento of his most vulnerable period. It is tucked inside a desk in his Capitol office -- against the picture window with an expansive view of the Mall and the Washington Monument, which the twice-rejected presidential candidate calls with a pang "the second best view in Washington."

It is a slim, gold Santa Fe cigar box given to Dole 49 years ago by the unassuming people of Russell. The box sat on the counter at popular Dawson's Drug on Main Street, and townspeople filled it with coins and dollars for young Bob Dole -- the promising athlete whose body was ravaged by the German war machine and whose parents could not pay for his care. In it now, as then, are dozens of contribution slips, dated July 1947, signed by donors to the Bob Dole Fund. There was a $20 gift from a woman who struck oil in her wheat fields, but mostly 15 cents, 45 cents, one dollar, five dollars.

Dole's campaign is promoting his human side, even using his cigar box as a video prop to evoke core, American values. Yet when asked what the box means to him, Dole talked awkwardly about it: "When you look at a cigar box, it doesn't mean all that much. Then you open it up, and you start looking at the deposit slips and you start looking at all those people, many of whom are gone now."

It was vintage Dole to underplay such a potent prop; a career legislator habitually reveals less than he knows. But his expression softened and he showed emotion as he thumbed past names from long ago.

"Here's Henry Wegele: cash -- $1.50," he began. " . . . The Goetzes. They were neighbors of ours. . . . Kelly Baxter. He's gone. Jake Krug is gone. Della Gross is gone. Gene Ball is gone. Hannah Roubach. She had a lot of oil money. She gave me $20. She's long gone. . . . "

He lingered over one slip. "I can tell my Dad's handwriting," he said of Doran Dole, who worked most of his life at a grain elevator beside the railroad tracks. Doran Dole is gone too -- since 1975.

Dole looked at the slip as if staring into a place profoundly removed from this formal, chandeliered office in the U.S. Capitol. Then he closed the box. Overcoming Vulnerabilities The first vulnerability was poverty. Even the name Robert Joseph Dole testified to simple beginnings. It came from his two grandfathers, one a tenant farmer, the other a butcher and father of 12 in Russell, a wheat-farming community and railroad junction in the heart of Kansas.

Dole and three siblings learned early how fragile security was, when Doran and Bina Dole moved everyone to the basement during the Depression because they couldn't pay the mortgage. For two years in the 1930s, they rented out the main floor to an oil company manager.

It was a time and place where no one reduced government to an easy good or bad. Small farmers were natural conservatives. But the New Deal was a balm to a town flattened by the Depression and the "Dirty Thirties," when suffocating dust storms destroyed the wheat economy. Nobody complained in the Dole house. "Can't never could do anything," was the credo of Bina Dole, who sewed her childrens' clothes from discarded men's suits and taught them to cut cardboard inserts to cover holes in their shoes. "There are doers and there are stewers," said Doran Dole, who missed one day of work in 40 years.

Dole's parents were Roosevelt Democrats. The Works Progress Administration built Dole's high school, and the Civilian Conservation Corps taught farmers how to ward off another Dust Bowl. Radios were tuned to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats and to fiery populist orators who damned the "interests" and Wall Street bankers, twin enemies of the underdog farmer.

Dole and his friends learned by osmosis to view monied people with caution. They even wondered about FDR: "It was the cigarette holder," said Dole classmate Ralph Resley. "It looked so upper crust."

But Dole had a plan for moving up and out. First he built himself into a strapping athlete, jogging every morning with makeshift hand weights, decades before jogging was anyone's idea of recreation. Friends said he was so in love with sports that he scarcely noticed girls, who all noticed him. "Bashful Bob Dole," the school paper dubbed him.

He aimed to win a college sports scholarship, and become a doctor. A soda jerk at Dawson's Drug, Dole saw that doctors seemed immune to Russell's cycles of misfortune. "Bub" Dawson, 77, the owner's son, said: "Bob probably looked at them and thought, Boy, that's what I'm going to be.' "

Despite well-laid plans, Dole landed back in Russell at 22, not only poor, but paralyzed. In April 1945, near Bologna, Italy, a German shell shattered his right shoulder and fractured his neck and spine. But inside the shattered frame shipped home in a body cast, an athlete's will and a poor boy's hellbent drive raged on. Even Dole's sharp-edged humor survived.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), a fellow patient at Percy Jones Army Medical Center in Battle Creek, Mich., spotted all this one night as a frail, wheelchair-bound Dole bantered with some bitter amputees.

"We in {the} hospital could be very dark and cruel at times," said Inouye, who lost his arm in the war. "And one of the amputees pointed at that hopeless right arm and said, Bob, why don't you cut the damned thing off?' He turned right around and said, Obviously you're jealous.' "

Dole spent 39 months recovering. He was paralyzed for months, near death twice, couldn't clean or feed himself for more than a year. When the Army sent him home, saying it could do no more, his right arm was fused to his body at a 45-degree angle. He had to train himself, inch by inch, to walk again.

Improbably, he insisted that he would regain all he had lost, becoming an athlete again, then a doctor. Privately, he was haunted by an image of himself as hopelessly disabled forever.

"You go through this time where you sort of ask, Why me?' " Dole said in an interview. "All these questions. Why did it have to be me? The war was about over. Two more weeks, three more weeks. . . . You look back on it, you wonder how you got through it."

In 1947, Dole found his way to a pioneering orthopedic surgeon, Hampar Kelikian, who carved a new ball and socket for Dole's shoulder, and re-hung his arm at his side with a transplanted thigh muscle. Still, after seven surgeries, the right arm remained immobile, the right hand could do no more than curl around a pen, and the left had little sensation.

But surgery was a minor part of what Kelikian did for Dole. Kelikian, too, had overcome crushing vulnerability. An Armenian who arrived in America in 1920 with $2 and a rug, fleeing murderous violence by Ottoman Turks that claimed the lives of three of his sisters, the doctor had a zeal for making the most of what you have left, according to his daughter, Alice Kelikian. For the first time, Dole trusted someone enough to accept that he could not become a doctor without sensation in his hands.

Kelikian suggested that Dole go into law, then politics, as a way of using what he had left -- his mind, wit and will. Dole said he went to Kelikian seeking a "miracle," and learned to face life without one.

When Kelikian died in 1983, Dole broke down while delivering a Senate eulogy. At the funeral in Chicago, Alice Kelikian said, "you would have thought he, rather than I, had lost a father."

Dole still is repaying Kelikian, pressing for the United States to recognize what it now calls the Armenian "massacre" as "genocide" by the Ottomans. In this, he has faced opposition from Democratic and Republican presidents, the Turks and supporters of Israel who view Turkey as an ally. According to Alice Kelikian, who is fund-raising among Armenians for Dole's campaign: "My father took the torment of that period to his grave. It's an anguish Senator Dole refuses to forget. When I hear people talk about the ultimate deal-maker, that is not the man I know."

Dole believes his injuries made him more sensitive. The ordeal of dressing with one arm, hooking his buttons, he said, is "sort of a daily reminder . . . not of my problem, but other people have problems."

Meanwhile his indomitable drive switched focus, from his body to his mind. Before the war, the University of Kansas athlete made gentleman's C's. In college and law school on the G.I. bill, there were only A's. Unable to take notes, he taped lectures, playing them ad nauseam. "The only way I could study a subject was to master it," he told his first wife, Phyllis Holden, a nurse he met at the end of his rehabilitation. The Gusto for Politics

Dole pursued politics with all the drive and ambition he had summoned in the fight for his life. Friends said life and political success became synonymous, leading Dole at times to glow with principle and at others, to radiate opportunism.

This enormously partisan Republican chose his party in the most pragmatic way. In 1950, the Russell County GOP wanted the sports hero turned courageous, injured veteran, to run for state legislature. But there was a problem: His parents were Democrats.

Then-county attorney John Woelk made the pitch. "I told him if he wanted to win, he might as well become a Republican because that's where two-thirds of the votes are in Kansas," Woelk said. "I had a willing buyer."

As a local politician, Dole was inspirational. "We admired people who rose above adversity," said Russell merchant Dean Banker. As county attorney until 1960, he was legendary for working all day at what was supposed to be a part-time job, then seeing his private clients late into the night.

"He wasn't interested in making money, he wasn't interested in having a family life. He was interested in getting elected, and he devoted his life to it," Woelk recalled.

"Bob was an opportunist then and he's an opportunist now," said Marvin Thompson, 75, a young lawyer with Dole. "Back when lawyers couldn't advertise, Bob hustled business so hard we called him the solicitor general."

Dole also had an early knack for linking politics with fund-raising. He challenged a new state tax on oil and gas and won in court, scoring favor with Kansas's two most powerful interests -- oil companies, and the Farm Bureau, whose members had found oil in many wheat fields.

Mingled with Dole's consuming ambition were flashes of compassion. He talked with pain of signing county welfare checks, finding his paternal grandparents on the rolls. There is a large gap between perceptions of Dole in Russell and on the national stage, where he has many conflicting personas: consensus-shaper, slashing partisan, defender of the hungry and disabled, champion of favored business interests. There is a principled Dole, an expedient Dole, a mean Dole, a gentle Dole, a Dole who can lack all affect and a Dole given to anger and, at times, tears.

Dole constantly has shifted roles as part of his politics of survival. Throughout his Washington career, he has carried agendas scripted largely by others, from Richard M. Nixon to Newt Gingrich, always positioning himself for a moment when he would break the shackles and run for president himself. Hard-Line Early Days

For his first 15 years in Washington, Dole flourished as a hard-line Republican. Arriving in the House in 1961, he opposed the Kennedy tax cut as fiscal folly, voted against Lyndon B. Johnson's Medicare and Great Society programs and fought Soviet grain sales as sops to communism. In 1964, he helped break the moderate grip on the GOP, embracing Barry Goldwater. But he voted for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts -- both popular in Kansas, which was born fighting slavery.

He moved to the Senate in 1969, as Nixon arrived at the White House, and became a bomb-throwing back-bencher. He upbraided senior, moderate Senate Republicans for disloyalty to Nixon on Vietnam, Supreme Court nominees and more.

Sen. William B. Saxbe (R-Ohio) called Dole a "hatchet man," so abrasive he "couldn't sell beer on a troop ship." Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) welcomed "the first man we've had around here in a long time who will grab the other side by the hair and drag them down the hill."

The fierce partisanship won over Nixon, another poor boy from nowhere who saw something of his younger self in Dole and tapped him in 1971 to head the Republican National Committee. Dole traveled the country hurling red meat to GOP audiences. Recalled 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern: "He took a bite out of me every morning for breakfast."

Dole was dumped unceremoniously by Nixon after his landslide re-election, following loud complaints by Dole that he had been shut out by the high command at Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President. (It was Dole who dubbed it CREEP). In the end, the distance insulated Dole from blame for Watergate.

But in 1974, Dole almost drowned in an anti-Watergate wave, barely saving himself with an ingenious attack ad and an impassioned embrace of the antiabortion movement. Dole stormed Kansas, accurately declaring that his opponent, an obstetrician and Democratic congressman, had performed abortions. Antiabortion activists distributed fliers of dead fetuses, urging "Vote Dole." He won by 1 percent. Dole roared back to become his party's 1976 vice presidential nominee -- not by inspiring voters, but through political mechanics. President Gerald R. Ford, emerging from a convention divided between himself and conservative Ronald Reagan, needed a conservative on the ticket to unite the party -- preferably one with Reagan's blessing. Dole landed on the short list.

But Dole scarcely knew Reagan. He turned for help to Lyn Nofziger, a friend from the Nixon days and then a trusted Reagan operative. Assuming Ford would ask Reagan whom he liked for vice president, Dole implored Nofziger, "Ask Reagan not to say anything bad about me."

Ford did ask, and Reagan touted Dole, Nofziger said, "which was funny because he didn't even know Dole. I just told him: Dole's my friend and he's a good guy."

But Dole's candidacy ended in disaster with his assertion in a debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale that 1.6 million Americans had died in "Democrat wars" -- from World War I to Vietnam.

Mondale's response became the verdict on Dole for years to come: "Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight. . . . Does he really mean to suggest that there was a partisan difference over our involvement in the war to fight Nazi Germany?"

The outburst had such staying power that 12 years later, when Dole lost the New Hampshire primary to George Bush and darkly blurted out to him, "Stop lying about my record," pundits connected the two remarks as twin expressions of Dole's barely bridled meanness.

But there was evidence even in 1976 that Dole was more complex than advertised. In his first appearance with Ford, outside the Russell courthouse, Dole broke down as he looked out at the faces of people who helped him when he was fighting for his life. The crowd roared its support. This image did not have half the staying power of "Democrat wars." There Is Always Tomorrow

For the political survivor, as for the survivor of massive wounds, there is always a tomorrow. And so, from the depths of the 1976 defeat, Dole began positioning himself to run for president. Again, he mastered the mechanics, amassing money and power in tandem throughout the next decade. A key step came in 1979, when he traded the senior Republican seat on the Agriculture Committee -- a post dear to Kansas farmers -- for the same slot on the Finance Committee, flocking point for the country's wealthiest interests. Dole still shaped farm bills, but the big change came in his ability to raise money.

"Before that, he had an easy time raising PAC {political action committee} contributions from companies, but that was only $5,000 at a time," said a former, longtime political aide. "Once he got to the Finance Committee, it got a lot easier to get a hundred wealthy guys at a fund-raiser, each of them giving the $1,000 limit, and he'd walk out with $100,000."

By 1983, as Finance Committee chairman, Dole was the Senate's leading recipient of honoraria, or speaking fees, from private groups, most with interests in legislation. He also built an interlocking network of fund-raising entities and a foundation for the disabled, a number of whose key donors won tax advantages with Dole's help.

The most obvious example is Dole's top political contributor, Andreas, the chairman of Archer Daniels Midland Co., which owes its huge markets in ethanol and corn sweeteners largely to an array of legislative arcana Dole has championed. He emphasizes that Kansas farmers also benefit, since corn is used in ethanol and corn sweeteners. Comfortable Insider

Dole generated little voter excitement in his first two presidential bids, swamped in 1980 by Reagan and beaten everywhere except Iowa by Bush in 1988.

But if the Senate was Dole's theater by default, he hardly treated it that way. His political deficiencies vanished inside a culture of politicians, where there is no suggestion that he is too old to lead. Rather, colleagues express awe at his stamina for the inch-by-inch, vote-by-vote tedium of steering legislation. Alan K. Simpson (Wyo.), Dole's Senate whip for 10 years, believes the same trait was at work throughout Dole's struggle to live. "It's not the bravery. It's not even the wound. It's coming back," he said.

Simpson told of one hours-long negotiation in which Dole was "just sitting there, a little slouched, just listening, working the pen in that bad hand," when one "jerk" announced he had to go to a fund-raiser. Simpson wanted to explode, he said, but Dole remarked "in that even voice, Let's see if we can work that one out.' Because he knows at some point in time in the next three or four days or weeks or months, he's going to need that guy."

Accommodating fellow senators, his presidents and his party as the nation's longest-serving Senate Republican leader, Dole has stood variously for and against tax cuts, for and against civil rights bills, for and against poverty programs. Inside the Senate, these shifts that confuse voters are seen as tools of a negotiator contending with an ideologically riven Senate. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, observed, for example, that while Dole widely was viewed as flip-flopping in the health care debate -- supporting and then abandoning a moderate GOP plan for universal coverage -- he in fact had a consistent, coldly partisan goal.

"The common wisdom is there's no anchor," said Keene, Dole's longtime friend. "But in the final analysis, he was out to defeat Clinton's bill," and with it the Democrats' hottest issue. "Until that happened, you weren't going to know where he stood. All else was just Senate maneuvering," he said.

Dole's prime achievements came from maneuvering around White House or other constraints. He rallied large, bipartisan majorities for food stamps in the 1970s, voting rights in 1982, a rescue of Social Security in 1983 and in 1995 a resolution supporting President Clinton's Bosnia mission.

His anchor through it all has been a preoccupation with eliminating deficits. In the 1980s, he even embraced tax increases as a lesser evil, leading the GOP's "revolutionary guard" to brand him a rear-guard Hooverite.

"Balancing the budget is not just rhetoric for Bob Dole," said Kansas City lawyer Kim Wells, a veteran campaign aide. "It's Kansas. It's live in the basement and rent out the top if you need to to make ends meet. It's live within your means because if you don't there won't be any choices left."

As then-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), the supply-siders' apostle who said tax cuts alone would unleash enough economic growth to balance the budget, and Gingrich remade the Republican Party, Dole dismissed the duo as seekers of easy choices (tax cuts) while he faced the hard ones (deficits). Dole steered a deficit assault through the Senate in 1985, only to watch it die in the House with Reagan's blessings because it nicked a sacred cow: Social Security.

In 1988, Dole was hounded out of the GOP primaries as a man in love with taxes. As the furor built, he refused to sign a pledge not to raise taxes if elected: With Congress killing tough spending cuts, what else would slay the deficit? Bush signed the pledge, riding it to victory.

After 1988, Dole had the same fear that many voters now have about him -- that he was too old to run again. When an aide proposed, "Let's do it again in '92," Dole snapped, "That's how old I'll be then." Soon he was "carrying the water," as he put it, for yet another GOP president, even negotiating a tax increase for Bush, who in the end, broke the tax pledge. In 1991, Dole was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and talked seriously of retiring. (After surgery, he received a clean bill of health.) Phoenix-Like Revival

If the GOP's "revolutionary guard" had left Dole for dead, his high-voltage partisanship after Clinton's election resurrected him. The morning after the 1992 vote, dispirited Republicans looked up to find Dole in full battle dress, telling them not to fear a Clinton honeymoon. "The bad news is that Bob Dole is going to be his chaperon," Dole declared.

Dole's Republican stock soared as he rallied his 42 fellow GOP senators to frustrate one Clinton priority after another, eventually defeating health care reform and making its failure synonymous with Clinton's.

The Republican triumph in 1994 owed much to groundwork laid by Dole, but it remade the party in the image of his old nemesis, Gingrich. Once again, Dole has been battling for an agenda scripted largely by someone else.

Gingrich did finally incorporate Dole's longtime goal of a balanced budget with his own call for tax cuts. But the result has been a far stronger assault on the size of government than Dole ever attempted: Balancing the budget now means not only cutting spending by the amount of the deficit, but also by the amount of the tax cut -- which in the Republican budget came to $240 billion. This year, Dole has championed a budget slashing the food stamp program he helped to found. He also has dramatically shifted gears on civil rights, proposing to effectively abolish affirmative action, which he helped rescue from Reagan's ax in the 1980s.

In a concession to supply-siders, Dole now has signed the tax pledge he spurned in 1988. He minimizes the switch, saying the GOP Congress will wipe out the deficit without tax increases. But Dole made clear that the pledge signals a kind of politics that goes against his grain.

"I didn't go around Kansas signing pledges," he said. "People took me at my word. Still do . . . My view is: Pledges make some people feel good, but if your word's not any good, I don't care what you sign."

But he signed it.

Declaring his third presidential candidacy, Dole signaled that he would define himself once and for all as his own man: "I am not afraid to lead and I know the way." But the definition is still on hold. A consensus champion during two politically explosive government shutdowns, Dole responded last month to the Clinton State of the Union address as a partisan firebrand in a speech criticized widely in both parties.

Asked in an interview to clarify his vision, he answered less as a politician trying to move a nation than as a Senate leader trying to reconcile the new right, moderates, states' righters and orthodox Republicans.

"I think it's fair to say I've been very consistent on trying to balance the budget, trying to reduce taxes, trying to reduce regulations, trying to make life better for people, whether it's the Americans With Disabilities Act, some of the food programs, Social Security," he said. "And I think we are now headed in the wrong direction. I think we have opportunities we haven't had with the Republican Congress. My hope, my vision is the next few years, send the power back to the states, give power back, it's been flowing here for 40 years, let the governors, legislators, back to the states, back to people as I've said many times. And I think that's a fairly solid vision. . . . "

"I've never lost touch with the people out there," he said. "I think that's important as we look ahead -- where you'd take America. What are your values and where are you from? It all adds up to wanting a better future for the kids out there, and the grandkids. Get ready for the next century." Indirect Assessment

Facing what is certainly his last presidential campaign, Dole, who survived by looking always to tomorrow, has begun to look back and take stock. He has even begun talking emotionally about himself in public -- typically, through indirection.

It happened when he asked his fellow senators to support the Bosnia resolution. Turning away from the C-SPAN cameras as his eyes filled with tears, a husky-voiced Dole invoked frightened, young troops shivering in the cold in Bosnia and spoke of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) persevering as a Vietnam prisoner of war 25 years earlier. "It was a very personal statement," McCain said. "When he talked about me being in Vietnam, he was clearly talking about Bob Dole being in a V.A. hospital for two years, in nagging, constant pain."

It happened even more dramatically at Nixon's funeral, when a tearful Dole gave a eulogy that almost could be given one day for Dole.

"How American!" he kept saying of the life experiences that paralleled his own: "a boy who heard the train whistle in the night and dreamed of all the distant places that lay at the end of the track. . . . the grocer's son who got ahead by working harder and longer than anyone else. . . . " He talked of a man who "valued accomplishment more than ideology," who endured "not because he gave the most eloquent speeches but because he provided the most effective leadership. . . . "

There was no mention of Watergate, of violating public trust, or disgrace. The essence of Nixon for Dole -- like the essence of Dole for Dole -- was his view of life as struggle, and struggle as life. He recalled this advice from Nixon: "You must never be satisfied with success, and you should never be discouraged by failure. Failure can be sad. But the greatest sadness is not to try and fail, but to fail to try."

And so Dole is trying once again. Staff writer Helen Dewar and researcher Barbara J. Saffir contributed to this report. CAPTION: A LOOK AT: Robert J. Dole CHILDHOOD

Born July 22, 1923. Grew up poor in Russell, Kan., a wheat-farming town in the center of the state. The young Dole, dubbed "Bashful Bob" by classmates, was a sports star who hoped to go to college on an athletic scholarship and become a doctor. EDUCATION *University of Kansas, 1941 to 1943 University of Arizona, 1948 to 1949 *Washburn University, B.A. and bachelor of laws, 1952 PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE *U.S. Senate, 1969 to present *Senate Republican leader, 1985 to present *Chairman, Republican National Committee, 1971 to 1973. *U.S. House of Representatives, 1961 to 1969 *Russell County attorney, 1953 to 1960 *Kansas House of Representatives, 1951 to 1953 *U.S. Army, 1943 to 1948. Wounded in battle. FAMILY

*Married Elizabeth Hanford in 1975. Daughter Robin, 41, from his first marriage. HOT ISSUE: Balanced budget

"Just like the debate over the budget this winter, our arguments this spring will seem a maze of conflicting numbers, assertions and high-sounding words. But what we're really arguing about are the values that will shape our nation, our government, and the future of that child sleeping down the hall." CAPTION: Chasing a dream: GOP presidential contender Robert J. Dole leaves supporters in Iowa. A consummate insider, Dole often struggles in expressing his vision. At 72, this may be his last chance to show he can lead the nation. CAPTION: An athletic Dole planned to use his physical skills to earn a college scholarship and then attend medical school. When a debilitating war injury ended those plans, he went to law school and a career in politics. CAPTION: While his national political image is a shifting, conflicting one, his hometown neighbors always have been able discern the kind, compassionate Dole. CAPTION: Dole's mother, Bina, glowed with pride when her son returned to his hometown to announce he was seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 1980. CAPTION: Dole with his first wife, Phyllis, in 1969 shortly after coming to Washington as a newly elected senator. He soon became a bomb-throwing back-bencher. CAPTION: Bob Dole and his younger brother, Kenny, in an undated file photo from the Dole family. CAPTION: Robert J. Dole and then-Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole at fund-raiser for Ronald Reagan, who once touted a Dole candidacy without knowing him. CAPTION: Dole at a 1994 luncheon for 25th inaugural anniversary of Richard M. Nixon. After coming to the Senate, he was known as Nixon's Doberman pinscher. CAPTION: George Bush and Dole had an up and down relationship. Attacked by Bush in the primaries, he nonetheless negotiated the infamous tax hike for Bush. CAPTION: Gerald R. Ford meets his vice presidential candidate in 1976. Dole was Ford's Senate hatchet man. For Newt Gingrich, right, he was a deal maker.