- Former United States Senator Bob Dole has died in the state of Maine today at the age of 98.
- Dole, a decorated World War II veteran, was the GOP’s presidential candidate in 1996.
- He was first elected to Congress in 1961 – the start of a long career in politics.
Bob Dole, the former U.S. senator and Republican presidential candidate, died Sunday at the age of 98.
Dole’s death was confirmed by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in a statement.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” the foundation said. “By his death, at the age of 98, he had served the United States faithfully for 79 years.”
He leaves behind his wife of 46 years, Elizabeth Dole, and his daughter, Robin.
In February 2021, Dole announced at the age of 97 that he had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and would soon begin treatment. “While I certainly have some obstacles ahead, I also know that I join the millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” Dole said in a announcement back then.
Dole rose from a humble beginning in Russell, Kansas, to becoming one of the longest-serving Republican Senate leaders in history, only recently surpassed by Senator Mitch McConnell.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1948 and was awarded a bronze star and a purple heart for his service in World War II. He was badly wounded in Italy in 1945 by German fire, which left him with permanent limited mobility in his right arm.
Dole was first elected to Congress in 1961 and ran in the presidential election several times before becoming a GOP candidate in the 1996 election when he lost to Bill Clinton.
Politico once described him as “among the last living reminders of an era in Washington where bipartisan cooperation on major issues such as social security and civil rights was commonplace and the bloodshed of politics was set aside at the end of the day in favor of a common glass or thaw.”
Dole was born on July 22, 1923 to Bina and Doran Ray Dole.
His father ran a cream factory, and Dole worked at a pharmacy in Russell when he was in high school. Dole’s cinematographer Richard Ben Cramer wrote in his book “What it Takes” that Dole “had always worked, always been serious.” He worked at the pharmacy every day after school and on Saturdays.
Dole was also a high school athlete. He ran tracks and played basketball and football, and was, according to Cramer’s book, named “Ideal Boy” for his senior year.
Dole enrolled at the University of Kansas in 1941 as a pre-medical student. He continued his track, football and basketball career there and joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
Service in World War II
Dole’s college career was interrupted by World War II. While still in school, he enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps.
He attended Army Engineering School in Brooklyn, New York, and was then sent to Fort Breckenridge, Kentucky to become an anti-tank gunner. He applied for officer training in 1944 and was sent to Italy near Rome at the end of that year.
Dole joined the 85th Mountain Regiment, 3rd Battalion, and led a division as a lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division.
On April 14, 1945, before he had been subjected to much fighting, he and his division of about 40 men were pinned by German fire, and Dole was hit while pulling his radioman to cover.
“Some high-explosive bullet penetrated my right shoulder, breaking my vertebrae in my neck,” Dole said in a campaign video according to Military.com. “I saw these things run – my parents, my house. I could not move my arms, my legs.”
Dole was not expected to survive his injuries, but he eventually recovered after many years of rehabilitation, although he was left with permanent limited mobility in his right arm. He often held a ballpoint pen or rolled pieces of paper together in his right hand to hide his injury.
Dole met an occupational therapist, Phyllis Holden, at an Officers Club dance at Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, and married her. They had a daughter together and were later divorced.
Dole was eventually awarded a bronze star for his heroism.
The career of Congress
Dole began his political career in 1950. He ran for the Kansas House of Representatives as a Republican while still a 27-year-old law student with no political experience, according to The Wichita Eagle.
He then became a prosecutor for Russell County. Eight years after that, in 1960, he was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served four terms before becoming a senator in 1968. In 1971, he took on another job as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Dole’s notable accomplishments include bipartisan legislation on the federal food stamp program, voting rights, and health care. But he also had a reputation as a political “ax man”. CNN has referred to Dole as “the essential Washington insider,” and Politico has noted his “eye for the neck.”
Dole represented Kansas in Congress for eight years and in the Senate for more than 27 years.
In January 2018, Dole was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award issued by Congress, “for his service to the nation as a soldier, legislator, and statesman.” He is the eighth senator to receive the medal.
Dole tried the White House four times. He was President Gerald Ford’s deputy comrade during the incumbent’s failed bid in 1976, then even ran for the Republican presidential candidate in 1980 and lost to Ronald Reagan. He ran for the nomination again in 1988, this time losing to George HW Bush.
Dole eventually succeeded in 1996, winning the Republican presidential nomination while serving as Senate Majority Leader. He ran against incumbent President Bill Clinton.
Dole gave up his Senate seat and his position as majority leader to run. The New York Times called Dole’s 1996 presidential election “one of the most ineffective presidential campaigns of recent times.”
“Always the legislative tactician, Mr. Dole, according to his close associates, approached the presidential race in the same way he did a congressional negotiation session, believing that the key to victory was a smart playoff strategy,” The Times wrote. “But so gloomy were the polls, and so long that Mr Dole was forced to realize, far earlier than most losing candidates, that the playoffs probably would not be enough.”
The Times described Doles’ reported assessment of what went wrong with his campaign: “He was outraged at the embarrassed attempt to win Ross Perot’s approval. He was mystified over the states his campaign had sent him to visit. “He was unhappy with the TV commercials. In short, he was convinced that the presidency was about to escape him again.”
Dole eventually lost the race to Clinton, which effectively ended his political career.
Consistent with his reputation for fostering friendships between two parties, Dole told The Washington Post after his election loss: “People called [me] to be an axman against Clinton for the next four years. I could not see the point. Maybe you’re looking for more friendships after all the biased fights. “One of the great things I’ve discovered is that when you’re out of politics, you have more credibility on the other side.”
Dole made headlines as he rose from his wheelchair to pay tribute to his former political rival, former President George HW Bush, at Bush’s funeral in 2018, an emotionally charged, powerful moment, especially given the story the two men share.
Bush, like Dole, was a war hero and served with distinction in World War II. Dole greeted with his left hand because of the injuries he sustained during the war, which affected his mobility in his right.
Dole was widely praised for what would be one of his last gestures of putting political rivalries aside in favor of courtesy.