MINNEAPOLIS -- He's an old political warhorse at age 71, but Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole is kicking and cavorting like a young colt as he --es around the country in pursuit of a Republican Senate -- and, for himself, the job of Senate majority leader that goes with it.
Mr. Dole had the job once before, in the first six years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, until the Democrats took the Senate back in 1986. "I've been majority leader and I've been minority leader," he told a jam-packed party fund-raising lunch here the other day. "And I'd rather be majority leader." The reason is twofold: It would give him immediate greater power, and it would be a boost to his very obvious 1996 presidential aspirations.
Dole's quick fund-raising stop here was for Republican Rep. Rod Grams, seeking to hold on to the Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of the beleaguered Republican Sen. David Durenberger against the challenge by former Democratic state legislative leader Ann Wynia. Not surprisingly, Dole told the crowd that "the person who can make me majority leader is Rod Grams," because "the first vote he casts will be for majority leader."
That assumes that the Republicans make the net gain of seven Senate seats they will need for a majority. Dole is delivering basically the same speech wherever he goes in behalf of GOP Senate candidates, substituting the name of the local party candidate as he goes. And everywhere he crisply lays out his formula for winning the seven seats, or more.
Unless something unexpected happens before the Nov. 8 voting, he says, the Republicans will win them from among nine "open" seats -- six now held by the Democrats in Maine, Oklahoma, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, and three now held by the Republicans in Wyoming, Missouri and Minnesota.
"Every now and then one party or the other gets into a good year," he said here to the party faithful who plunked down a total of $50,000 to hear him. "We had a bad one in 1974 [after Watergate and the Nixon resignation]. In my view, it's happening for the right reasons. The American people, Republicans, Democrats and independents, are saying, 'When was the last time the Republicans had Congress?' "
It was, he told them, 42 years ago, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president and swept both houses in with him.
Citing the big lead in Minnesota that Republican Gov. Arne Carlson holds over Democratic challenger John Marty, Dole observed that "a rising tide lifts all boats, and Arne's going to lift all of us."
As if to reassure any Democrats and independents in the audience, Dole went on: "We're ready for it to happen, for the right reasons. It's good to have the power," he said. "But if we do have a majority in the Senate, and maybe in the House, we'll work with the president of the United States. That's an obligation we have with the American people. Voters expect no less."
Dole also predicted that his party would pick up seven or eight more governors and could hold the governor's chair in nine of the 10 largest states after Nov. 8. "The opportunities are out there everywhere." But if the Republicans do make the extraordinary political gains he is talking about -- they need 40 more seats to control the House -- they will have to provide effective leadership, he said. If they don't, voters might well "throw us out for another 42 years."
Dole did not mention that even if his party takes control of Congress, the prospect for more gridlock with a Democrat in the White House, and even more voter disillusionment with Congress, is bound to remain high. For now, he is accentuating the positive with a buoyancy that defies his years, both in what he says and how he looks -- trim, straight and without a sign of aging in his unlined face. Few who heard and saw him here were likely to say Bob Dole is too old to run for president again.
He told the crowd here of a crackpot letter he had received with obscene comments written front and back and even on the envelope. He said he replied as the late Democratic Sen. Stephen M. Young did to a similar correspondent: "Some damn fool sent me this letter and signed your name."
But in the politician's natural optimism, Dole said, "I put him down as undecided." Then he added: "If they're not for you, they're undecided." On Nov. 8, he said, "Pick up your neighbors, if they're with us. If they're not, tell them the election's been postponed."