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    The Race for the White House

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  • Wednesday, October 20, 1999

    The field of GOP presidential hopefuls just got smaller. Former Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole dropped out of the race for the White House today. Despite a third-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll in August, Dole, the only woman in the contest, struggled to raise funds and keep her profile high. Finally, funding troubles brought her bid to an end.

    Post reporter David Von Drehle has been out on the campaign trail with Dole, and profiled the candidate last week. Previously, Von Drehle worked in The Post's New York bureau, covered the 1992 presidential campaign and was an arts editor and assistant managing editor of Style. He answered your questions on Dole and the White House race live online Wednesday, Oct. 20. The transcript follows: Good afternoon, David, and welcome. You mentioned in your story that Sen. John McCain could benefit from Elizabeth Dole's departure from the presidential race. Do you think he will benefit in terms of money, or in buzz?

    David Von Drehle: Thanks for the chance to yak. I think in the short term the biggest boost for McCain may be in the buzz department. He wants to be seen as the head-to-head challenger to George W. Bush, and every time a credible, experienced candidate leaves the field, he gets that much closer to his goal.

    Herndon, Va.: Not only Mrs. Dole but all the candidates who have dropped out of the presidential race so far have cited lack of money as their reason. Yet the size of a candidate's war chest is not a valid indicator of public support, and thus voters are in a sense disenfranchised. Isn't it time to have some sort of public financing of the primary campaigns so that voters can have a real choice?

    David Von Drehle: I'd prefer to leave the opinion part of that question to our editorial page – and anyway, you've made the case for public financing very well. I would make just two points for the sake of discussion. First, the people who donate money to candidates are human, too. In that sense, money DOES reflect popular support to degree. And second, the primary process is designed to show the will of a political party, not necessarily the will of the general electorate. The most fervent party members will always have an outsized influence on the primary results.

    Evanston, Ill.: I'm so completely disappointed and angry that the first serious female candidate for president in America didn't get more support than she deserved both from the Republican establishment and the public as a whole.

    My only hope is that once George [W.] Bush gets his nomination (a statement that seems like a foregone conclusion), he nominates Dole for the VP spot on the Republican ticket.

    What do you think the chances are for this to occur (has the Bush team purchased a Bush-Dole website)?

    Aren't you disgusted with covering America's politics of money, that turn away candidates, who have devoted their lives to public service, in favor of candidates, whose daddy feeds them with a silver spoon?

    David Von Drehle: I think a lot of people share your view. I was with Mrs. Dole last week in Iowa and I met a bunch of people – mostly women and girls, but also a number of men – who were really inspired by a strong woman candidate. Frankly, I expected her to stay in it longer. Having said all that, I'm not sure she represented a challenge to the GOP establishment. After all, she is married to the most recent presidential nominee. That's pretty darned established.

    Silver Spring, Md.: I'd really like to see a Bush-Dole matchup for the 2000 election. What's the chance for this to happen?

    David Von Drehle: Several people are asking this question. I think there is a real chance of this, but I wouldn't put my kid's Christmas money on it. Pluses: She has great name recognition, she is hugely admired, she's a veteran campaigner, she has a strong background, and she's a woman in a party that, frankly, has faced a troublesome gender gap for the past 20 years. Minuses: If the GOP is trying to position itself as a party of change after eight years of Clinton-Gore, I'm not sure a Bush-Dole bumper sticker is the way to do it. What's the slogan? "You didn't want Bush in '92 and you didn't want Dole in '96 – How 'bout Bush-Dole 2000?"

    Bloomfield, N.Y.: Why couldn't she have run a less expensive campaign? I would have voted for her based on what we already knew. GWB is no better than Clinton. I just hope that McCain doesn't drop out.

    David Von Drehle: I thought she would be able to keep going through the early primaries at least. Because she is so well-liked and well-known, she draws crowds and draws media coverage without spending a lot of money. All she really needed was a plane ticket.

    New York, N.Y.: Do you believe that Elizabeth Dole should have continued her presidential campaign, even given her lack of funds, as a sort of service to pave the way for a future woman's campaign for president? I know that she claimed to be in to win the race but it seemed more as if she was serving a symbolic purpose to show that a woman with substantial government experience could be a viable candidate for president and now that is lost with her withdrawal from the race.

    David Von Drehle: One thing we've learned about Elizabeth Dole from this race is just what a competitor she is. When she gets into something, she's in it to win. Apparently symbolic victories aren't enough. Don't let the smile and good manners fool you – she is wonderfully tough.

    Knoxville, Tenn.: I find it appalling that the Republican Party would not support someone who has done so much for them. Could Elizabeth Dole be a viable candidate if George W. had not entered the race?

    David Von Drehle: If Bush had not run everything would be different. Dole said in her speech today something I had always suspected – that she was caught off guard by the speed with which this race got started. She left the Red Cross and announced her intentions without any groundwork in place. Understandably, she thought she would have time – normally, the race gets serious about a year ahead of Election Day. By the time she got going, she was already left in the dust.

    Washington, D.C.: Let's play Veepstakes. Say Bush does tap Dole to be his vice president. Who do you see Gore or Bradley choosing to make an effective opposing ticket?

    David Von Drehle: I think Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator from California, is a very strong possibility on the Democratic side regardless of what happens on the Republican ticket.

    Bethesda, Md.: I read on today that in several interviews, Bob Dole characterized Elizabeth Dole's chances of winning the presidential race as a "longshot." Nice going, Bob. Any insight into why he would say such a thing?

    Washington, D.C.: How badly did Dole's PR suffer from her husband's support of John McCain? A couple of related questions.

    David Von Drehle: Good question. My sense from talking to Republican strategists and moneybags types is that Bob Dole's comments were extremely damaging. He is considered a very good vote-counter,and his analysis carried a lot of weight. Why would he say such a thing? There has been a lot of speculation, but the explanation that sounds right to me is simple: Bob Dole has an odd habit, for a politician, of saying what he thinks.

    Leavenworth, Kan.: Is Elizabeth Dole "eligible" for nomination as the vice-presidential candidate on a Republican ticket, in spite of her withdrawal from the presidential race? What Republican Party (or other) "rules," if any, govern her possible nomination as vice president?

    David Von Drehle: The Republicans can nominate anyone they want for VP, as long as she or he meets the requirements to serve as president – 35 years old or older, native-born American. Am I forgetting anything?

    Naperville, Ill.: Did E. Dole drop out under any stealth pressure from the GOP party leaders? The sooner the GOP establishes their absolute front-runner, obviously the better since at some point the party would need to unify around on THE presidential candidate. Do you feel GOP under pressure to establish unity sooner to fend off Democratic attacks?

    David Von Drehle: I actually think the Bush people would have been happy to have Mrs. Dole stay in. They did not fear her, but they liked having her as a sort of buffer between them and McCain.

    Alexandria, Va.: How much did Mrs. Dole's husband contribute to her quitting? I mean this both in terms of his general un-support for her campaign, as well as her being in his shadow, because she is a woman. By the way, do you think a woman can be a US president at all? Thanks. MND

    David Von Drehle: I answered the first half of this earlier, but I want to have a shot at the last part: I think we'll have a woman president in the foreseeable future. I think all those years of Margaret Thatcher on our television screens changed a lot of perceptions. We have, I think, seven women in the Senate now – all of them elected on their own steam. Both senators from the biggest state in the country are women. It's coming.

    Denver, Colo.: What is the likelihood that Dole is simply positioning herself for the VP nomination? What is the history of VP nominations? Do they typically come closer to the conventions? What are the pros and cons of asking Dole to join Bush's team now?

    David Von Drehle: VP choices are normally made much closer to the convention. I actually think this decision makes her more of a longshot as a running mate. She won't be going into the convention with any delegates to show her strength. On the other hand – she certainly looked great in her speech this morning. So maybe her stock went up.

    Kensington, Md.: Why did so many women support Elizabeth Dole, anyway? Was it her stand on women's issues?? Some sort of hope that the lives of American women would improve with E.D. in the White House? Frankly, I haven't read anything about her being a women's advocate. I think it is careless to support a female candidate simply because she is female; what she thinks about "the issues" is far more significant, and relevant.

    David Von Drehle: I think women responded to her for a variety of reasons. Part of it is the symbolism. Part of it is her personal integrity. She exudes competence and experience. I don't think her stands on women's issues were a big factor because she very much avoided talking about that part of the agenda. I think she didn't want to be pigeonholed. Now, having said all that, don't OVERestimate her support among women. She was far, far behind George W. Bush among women as well as men in the GOP.

    Leavenworth, Kan. [again]: Will The Washington Post be coming out with a good, comprehensive review of Bush's positions on the issues any time soon? You mentioned in another show that you had reporters in Texas digging up legitimate information (to replace rumors and junk information).

    David Von Drehle: We're working on them. The first installment ran about a week ago. It looked at the Bush record on air pollution in Texas. It should be available still on the website. Now that I think about it, there was an even earlier piece looking at Bush and juvenile justice, one of his favorite issues. You'll find the story on air pollution in Texas in the White House 2000 archive. The seven-part Post series on Bush is there as well.

    Alexandria, Va.: So, aren't we now down to a two-person race for the Republican nomination, Bush v. McCain? Granted, Forbes has the $$ to keep going, but let's face it, he's an outsider and has no real chance of convincing Republican insiders that they should accept him. And Gary Bauer is...a token, in effect. Wouldn't you agree that there's one last chance for the mavericks in NH to make it a race for a week by resuscitating McCain, but thereafter Bush's mega – $$ will simply decide the matter?

    David Von Drehle: That sounds about right to me. Anything other than that would come as a surprise – but politics is pretty surprising these days.

    Boston, Mass.: Do you think that this makes a GW Bush-E. Dole ticket more likely? Could the Dole campaign already have negotiated a joint ticket with Bush if, and when, he receives the Republican nomination. Who else are potential Bush running mates?

    David Von Drehle: I would be shocked if Bush was dispensing the VP slot so many months away from the election. Too many things could happen to change the equation. The dream VP is Colin Powell. He will be offered the job if he wants it. I expect he doesn't. I think New York Gov. George Pataki has a real shot. Dole, obviously, would help them in important ways. There is a whole bunch of Republican governors to choose from. I'd be surprised if Bush chose a member of Congress, given the PR problems of the congressional Republicans these days.

    Washington, D.C.: Is McCain really perceived as a threat by the muckety-mucks?

    David Von Drehle: I don't think they fear him much. Some of you may have heard me quote former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards before. He once said he had an election sewn up "unless they catch me in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." That's roughly Bush's situation now in the race for the GOP nomination. Do you have a sense of when Dole will endorse one of her formal rivals? Do you think she'd join her husband in support of McCain, or is the prospect of a position in a Bush administration – VP chances notwithstanding – just too enticing?

    David Von Drehle: She has never been the type to buck the party.

    Washington, D.C.: Mrs. Dole raised a large amount of money from her native North Carolina from new Republican donors but was unable to get substantial political support from state legislators and other party insiders. (She was able to enlist new volunteers who actually started a Draft Dole committee last year.) Do you think these Dole supporters will support Bush or McCain? Or perhaps sit this one out?

    David Von Drehle: Our most recent poll on this question, taken last month, indicated that Bush was the second choice of most Dole supporters. That would suggest that her people will go with the same tidal flow sweeping through the rest of the party mainstream.

    Fairfax, Va.: As the mother of two daughters and a Dole donor, I am extremely [upset] at her decision to drop out, though I understand the staffing and financial concerns. I want her on the ticket. What do you think she thinks of that idea, and what would make her turn it down if offered to her? Do you think she might pursue it behind the scenes? Will her husband pursue it for her?

    David Von Drehle: I don't know how she would pursue the VP slot, beyond what has already happened. Obviously, the Bush people are aware of her and know her strengths. When the time comes, they will either choose her or they won't.

    Arlington, Va.: Isn't it good for women that Dole got out without doing a weepy Pat Schroeder or would it have been better to see her fight it out to the end? As Nina Totenberg recently noted on your favorite show "Inside Washington" (when she wasn't singing or acting odd) that if Dole were a man, she wouldn't be taken seriously. Maybe the sexes are more equal than we think.

    David Von Drehle: I thought Mrs. Dole's departure this morning was extremely classy and cogent, and that's the reaction I'm hearing from others. As for Nina, perhaps she is right. Without her compelling personal qualities – if she were just another former mid-level Cabinet secretary – she would probably not have gotten as much attention. That was the last question for David Von Drehle. Thanks to David, and to everyone who joined us today.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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