Dole announces presidential exploratory committee
March 10, 1999
DES MOINES, Iowa (AllPolitics, March 10) -- Saying "you have to have passion for what you believe," Elizabeth Dole moved one step closer Wednesday to running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 by announcing the formation of an exploratory committee.
Abandoning the lectern, Mrs. Dole walked into the audience as she did during the 1996 Republican National Convention to deliver her announcement "Oprah-style."
Mrs. Dole said running for president was an "arduous task" requiring total commitment, and she believes "politics has become so negative" that "we as a people are losing faith in our institutions."
"We've got to rekindle something in our hearts, something that is very American that is still there, but is buried underneath ... a thickening layer of cynicism and doubt. And that is belief in the individual, restoring that American sense that one person, no matter how great the challenge, can make a real difference," Dole told a crowd of supporters in Iowa, scene of the first caucuses next year.
Preliminary polls have suggested that Dole and Texas Gov. George W. Bush are the leading Republican contenders so far.
Mrs. Dole, 62, is the wife of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996. She impressed many campaigning for her husband and has long been mentioned as a possible Republican nominee for president or vice president.
The former Senate majority leader did not attend the Des Moines announcement because of a special trip to the Balkans as a peace envoy for President Bill Clinton.
Calling herself a former "lieutenant in Ronald Reagan's army," Mrs. Dole tacitly acknowledged the healthy economy and asked the audience of more than 400 to amend Reagan's famous re-election question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
"I would suggest that perhaps the relevant question now is are you better? Are your families stronger? Are your children safe from drugs? Are our schools in American first for excellence?" Dole asked.
Dole went on to say she believes education reform is needed and "the number one priority of any education reform must be this: to restore our public schools to greatness."
Although Dole has been slow to offer her stands on public policy issues, she made a small foray into addressing possible platform items Wednesday. But she also asked for time to "talk to a lot of people," "get really good ideas" and present a platform in a "thoughtful way."
In addition to education, Mrs. Dole highlighted illegal drugs, military readiness, a strategic missile defense system and tax cuts during her speech.
"Today our taxes have reached the highest percentage of gross domestic product in 50 years," Dole said. "The average American family spends 40 percent of its income just paying the tax bill. According to the Tax Foundation, that means the family spent more than five months in 1998 working for the government -- in federal, state and local taxes combined."
In the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the partisan fighting that occurred during the subsequent impeachment battle, Mrs. Dole also focused on rebuilding trust in government.
"We are a good and great nation, and we must demand a government with the integrity to inspire trust and straightforward strength to keep us free," she said. "At a time when the presidency has been tarnished, when words have been devalued and institutions have squandered respect, our confidence in our leaders is shaky. But we can rebuild it."
Mrs. Dole also announced the launch of her Web site at www.edole2000.org.
Next, Mrs. Dole will travel to Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire and finally to her hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina, on Saturday.
In addition to Bush, who announced the formation of an exploratory committee on Sunday, Mrs. Dole joins a growing Republican field for the 2000 race. Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander formally announced his candidacy Tuesday.
Others in the field who have formally announced or signaled their interest include conservative activist Gary Bauer, television commentator Pat Buchanan, Ohio Rep. John Kasich, millionaire publisher Steve Forbes, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Vice President Dan Quayle and New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith.
An exploratory committee is seen by candidates as the official precursor to seeking a party's nomination.
In a television ad to accompany her announcement, the former Red Cross president positioned herself as an outsider.
"I'm not a politician and, frankly, today that may be a plus," Dole said in the ad.
"If I run, this will be why: I believe our people are looking for leaders that will call America to her better nature. Yes, we've been let down and by people we should have been able to look up to, but it's not just that," she continued.
"Politics and the politics of governing have become so negative, so paralyzed by special interests that as a people we're beginning to lose faith in our own institutions. It's only a short step to losing faith in ourselves and then we would be lost," Dole said.
The TV ads were scheduled to run in Iowa, where the party caucuses pose an initial test for candidates, and New Hampshire, which boasts the first presidential primary.
"Since I left the Red Cross I've been traveling around the country and I've been humbled by the response. It's been inspiring to appear before overflow crowds in places such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida and Texas," Dole proclaims in the roughly 15-minute long paid political ad. "It's been that way everywhere, but I don't think I'm the cause. I think the crowds ... are evidence of a great American yearning to make our nation a better place."
A Harvard-trained lawyer originally from North Carolina, Mrs. Dole has never held elected office. But she has a wide variety of experience in the federal bureaucracy since coming to Washington in the mid-1960s, including serving five years as a member of the Federal Trade Commission before joining the Cabinet during the Reagan and Bush years.
Mrs. Dole served in the Cabinet as Transportation secretary from 1983 to 1987 and as Labor secretary from 1989 to 1990. She headed the Red Cross from 1991 until she resigned her post in January.
She gained extensive campaign experience working on her husband's presidential races. She fought for and secured full campaign staffs and was herself a tireless campaigner.
January polls suggested she and Bush, the son of former President George Bush, would be front-runners for the Republican nomination. Both hold a polling edge over Vice President Al Gore, the leading Democratic candidate.
But Mrs. Dole will need to raise at least $20 million to win the nomination. It is a task many say she is up to, though Bush and Alexander would most likely be competing with her for many of the same donors.
A national movement to draft Dole into the race was launched in December 1998 by Republican activist Earl Cox, who in 1996 tried to draft retired Gen. Colin Powell for a White House run. The movement started to shut down on Monday, declaring success.
If she ran, Mrs. Dole would join only a handful of women who have made presidential bids. Victoria Woodhull announced her candidacy in 1870, long before women even had the right to vote.
In 1964, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith's name was put into nomination at the Republican convention. And Shirley Chisholm ran in the 1972 Democratic primaries while Geraldine Ferraro won the number two slot on the 1984 Democratic ticket.
Others have explored the possibility but ultimately did not take the leap. Rep. Pat Schroeder seriously considered running in 1988 but opted out, as did former Labor Secretary Lynn Martin in 1996.
If she decides to run, Mrs. Dole may have a better chance of success than her predecessors because of a change in public opinion. A Gallup poll taken February 19-21 showed 92 percent of Americans say they would vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who happened to be a woman. In 1975, less than three-quarters of the population expressed that view.
When asked "eEverything else being equal, who do you think would make the better president?" 42 percent of those questioned said a man, 31 percent answered a woman, while 22 percent said they did not care.
People who thought a woman would make a better commander in chief often cited a woman's common sense or intelligence, a need for a change and a woman's compassion as reasons for their answer.
Those who said a man would be a better president most often said the ability to control their emotions, the tradition of male presidents and the ability to make decisions were factors in their choice.
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