Dole's quip may help undo wife's campaign

May 19, 1999|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

JUST when you might have thought it was safe to ignore Bob Dole, he has done it again: come up with the unpredictable.

The tremors from his decision to hawk the latest remedy for what he delicately calls "erectile dysfunction" in his now-famous television commercial have barely begun to die down. Now he has offered the notion that he might just contribute to the presidential campaign of one of his wife's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination.

Mr. Dole told the New York Times that he has considered contributing to the campaign of Sen. John McCain, who's "not raising the money that [Texas Gov.] George Bush is," because "I think we need to keep good people in the race." But before doing so, he said, "I think I'd check with Elizabeth first."

Mr. Dole left the impression that his wife may not have really made up her mind about running, though she has an exploratory committee and has been visiting early primary and caucus states.

"She hasn't told me point-blank," he said. "If there's no response out there, or if it looks impossible, this is not her whole life. If she can't raise the money, obviously it's pretty hard to be a candidate."

He even owned up to being "a little bit concerned" about the slow early pace of her campaign. That's hardly the customary cheerleading that one expects from the spouse of a prospective candidate.

Mr. Dole left no doubt that he's fully supportive of her efforts and is "available for part-time work."

Nevertheless, his talk of helping Mr. McCain, even if said jokingly, comes at a time the early luster of Mrs. Dole as a polished stump performer may be starting to wear off, particularly among GOP conservatives not thrilled by her efforts to appear moderate on such right-wing litmus test issues as gun ownership and categorical opposition to abortion.

Accordingly, her husband's unrestrained chatter may be causing her, or at least her political hired guns, to start shopping for a muzzle for him. But it once again reveals an appealing candor that is in very short supply in national politics, and has been a trademark of Mr. Dole.

Mr. Dole's brand of humor-laced straight talk continues to make him one of the most refreshing voices in public life. Unfortunately for his political career, his candor has occasionally been laced with a bitterness, to the detriment of his public persona.

But if a man is destined someday to become first spouse, it's hard to think of anyone who could bring it off with more deference as well as humor than Mr. Dole.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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