TOPICS > Politics

Bob Dole: Going the Distance

February 19, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Now we speak to Senator and Candidate Robert Dole. Welcome, Senator.

SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Republican Presidential Candidate: Thank you very much.

MARGARET WARNER: Here we are 24 hours, less than 24 hours before the polls open. How do you see the dynamic of the race now between you and the two men who seem to be challenging you most aggressively?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, it’s hard for the candidate. I mean, I think it feels good. You know, I was up here in ’88 when I thought it felt good, the polls said it looked good. It may be a little tighter this time, but I don’t know, I feel good about it. I’m relaxed about it. Tomorrow it’s up to the voters, and we’ll see what happens.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, now Pat Buchanan is going around the state today complaining bitterly about your negative ads, and he quoted an aide of yours telling “Time” Magazine we’re going to win it ugly. Is that what this has come to?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I hope not. I don’t know who the aide was. You know, a lot of fictitious aides around, but I think we’ve had some pretty heavy negative campaigning. I think I’m the $10 million man. I’ve had about that much of it. But my view is that, you know, if we win this race, we win in New Hampshire, we’re going to go on to North and South Dakota, Arizona, South Carolina, and we try to keep a positive message, but I think it’s fair not to point out that Pat Buchanan, what he said about women, what he said about nuclear weapons, South Korea, he said it. I didn’t say it. I mean, that’s not negative. My voting record, if they list my voting record, that’s not negative, it’s a fact. Bob Dole can’t run from it. But hopefully, tomorrow will be the end of that cycle, and we’ll move on to something else.

MARGARET WARNER: He also says your campaign is calling voters, ostensibly to poll them, but spreading negative information about him, is that true?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: No. You know, we had the same thing last week in Iowa. I remember last, in ’88 when we were up here, people were calling senior citizens at 2 AM and saying, “Be sure and vote for Bob Dole.” Now, we thought that was the Bush campaign, they said it wasn’t the Bush campaign. But there are, you know, a lot of free spirits around here too, and maybe they’re strong supporters, maybe they’re not, but we don’t have any operation to do that, so–

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think a negative campaign, and as you said it’s been on all sides, do you think that’s playing into President Clinton’s hands?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think temporarily but once, you know, it’ll probably have some impact on all Republicans, but my view is that once we have a nominee, we get, start talking as we should, it’s going to be a race between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, and we’ve been trying to make that race start right now. We’ve been talking more about Clinton. I haven’t said anything about Buchanan or Alexander, Dick Lugar, or anybody. I’ve been talking about how do we defeat Bill Clinton; that’s the big one.

MARGARET WARNER: We’ve talked to a lot of just ordinary voters, and even those who have already decided seemed very unenthusiastic about the whole field. Why do you think that is?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I remember when Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Humphrey, and all the great Democratic field I thought, people were not enthusiastic. It’s always I want something more, different. Again, it’s going to be–once we have a nominee, it’s pretty hard with nine of us out there, maybe they don’t like any of us, maybe they haven’t focused on any of us, but my view is that we find our people enthusiastic, we’ve got–I talked–we had a little meeting this afternoon of our staff, one particular staff member who’s very conservative, I won’t say pessimistic, is all up beat, telling me how good it looks all across the state, so we’re ready to vote.

MARGARET WARNER: You were the front-runner for months, and now–




MARGARET WARNER: And now, at least some polls suggest, you are fighting for your political life. Is this what you expected?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I didn’t expect to get about $10 million of negative ads from Steve Forbes aimed right at me. I mean, almost got me in Iowa, I mean, it was close, where we had an 80 percent favorable rating, it dropped to 50, 80 to 13, just, then he started his barrage October 23rd, it lasted till January 12th. Before we ran one ad, we put up with it for almost, well, November, December, about three months.

MARGARET WARNER: Ordinary voters again that we’ve talked to, even those planning to vote for you, say they aren’t really sure what your vision is. If you had to sum up what your essential message is, what is it?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: My essential message is a better America, brighter future, more power back to the states and back to the people, putting more money back in the hands of taxpayers. I think it’s a fairly clear message, vision. I think it’s a vision. We’re talking about going into the next century, we’re talking about a lot of things that are going to happen, we’re talking about moral leadership, family values. All these things–in fact, I’d say Bob Dole’s campaign, as opposed to some of the others, we’re not playing on the fears of the American people; we’re trying to build upon the hopes and the aspirations of the American people.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s talk about a couple of the other candidates. Pat Buchanan, what do you think is the real source of his appeal?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think there’s a certain segment of the American–I think he touches a chord on trade, and I don’t disagree totally with him on trade, I don’t think we build a wall around America, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be more aggressive. The President of the United States has a lot of weapons at his disposal he can use to make certain that we have a level playing field, but you can’t lock that–you know, we visited a place, Cabletron, this morning, in Rochester, New Hampshire, 30 percent of their business is international. It’s a big, big company, started out with two men, Bob Levine and Craig Benson, in their garage 13 years ago. And now they do about $300 million a year in international trade. That’s very important. I think Pat’s totally wrong on his stand on what–I think a very protectionist stand.

MARGARET WARNER: Though he is–he does seem to be tapping into this middle class anxiety.

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: He certainly does.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that whether he wins or loses, that your party has to respond to that more directly in a somewhat populist way?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think there’s a message here. I think it’s I supported GATT; I supported NAFTA; I’d do the same. But I didn’t, I think the President can be more aggressive in enforcing workers’ rights when it comes to the loss of jobs, fair competition, those are matters the administration, any administration, should pursue.

MARGARET WARNER: And what do you think of the way Pat Buchanan handled the controversy involving Larry Pratt, who was the campaign co-chairman who’s been accused of associating with white supremacists?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I’ve known of Larry Pratt for some time. I remember, I’ve shown up, I remember going to Virginia one night for a candidate, and they had pickets out there I think from Larry Pratt’s group–Bob Dole is a traitor–you know, not very friendly signs. And he’s been on my case for years, so I, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know whether he’s responsible or not, but certainly if he has those tendencies, he shouldn’t be in anybody’s campaign as far as I’m concerned. Pat has to make that choice.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s talk about–a little bit about Lamar Alexander–if I were a New Hampshire voter, and I had narrowed down my choice to the two of you, and a lot of voters seem to have done that, why should I choose you over Alexander?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Experience, judgment, I think being prepared for this job. I mean, for the first several months he said he had no experience, he’d never been to Washington. Now he’s saying he has experience. You can’t have it both ways. But, again, I think it’s my credibility, my view is that I’ve been a leader for 11 years in the Senate, I’ve been elected and reelected six times by my peers in the Senate. I think I could probably win a secret ballot on the Democratic side, because I’ve got a reputation for honesty and integrity and listening to people, which is very important, so I think if people are looking for somebody who can get the job done, who can work with the Congress, then I think it’s Bob Dole.

MARGARET WARNER: And what do you think is the source of Alexander’s appeal?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I don’t know. It’s not the plaid shirt, but maybe it’s the plaid philosophy. Nobody knows quite certain where he is, but I think he’s–we’ll see what happens tomorrow. Obviously, he’s been campaigning full-time. He’s been able to do that because this has been his job for the past two years, even though he was retained at a very handsome salary by a big Washington law firm. I had a full-time job, and try to keep my full-time job, but we feel good about it. We’re excited about the campaign, and we wish everybody well, but we hope to win.

MARGARET WARNER: Alexander’s critique of you, as you know, is that you’ve served well and honorably–


MARGARET WARNER: –but it’s time for you to step aside.

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Yeah. I mean, I’ve listened to that for the past 12 months, Bob Dole is a great legislator, but I say with respect we’re going into the next century. Well, my view is that we’re ready for the next century. The Dole administration is ready with ideas, with a vision. I feel–I’m a very positive person. I’ve always been very positive about America. I’ve sacrificed for my country. I’ve worked for my country. I know what America is all about. We grew up living in a basement apartment. My dad wore his overalls to work every day for 42 years. I think I’ve got a better feel for America than say Lamar Alexander or Pat Buchanan.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he’s trying to say you’re too old to be President?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Obviously. He’s been trying to say that, but I have my health records out. They’re–I’m still waiting for his. I’m in good health. My cholesterol is better than the President Clinton, my blood pressure is better, but I have promised not to make health an issue in the campaign.

MARGARET WARNER: In the past week there have been a number of news stories questioning Lamar Alexander’s private financial dealings. Do you think there’s anything questionable there?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I don’t know. I mean, it seems to me that’s something he has to respond to. And I think it’s going to be–if he stays in this race, there are going to be more and more questions, just as there have been more and more questions about the Clintons’ finances. They’re going to look at all of our finances. We’ve put our tax returns out there since 1966, I believe, so people can take a look at ’em, they can make judgments, but I think when you invest very little money and make a lot of money, $20,000 to make $2 million, somebody’s going to say, whee, I wish I could have gotten in on that deal.

MARGARET WARNER: There does seem to also be some concern among other people in your party that this campaign is exposing very deep fissures in the party, particularly between economic conservatives and populists, but also on the social, cultural side.


MARGARET WARNER: How worried are you about that?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think that’s another strength I have, reaching out to people, bringing people together. Phil Gramm came up here yesterday and said that, you know, he was going to support Bob Dole because Bob Dole could bring the party together. I think 24 governors have said that, in effect, 24 out of 31 Republican governors. They want to build this party. I’m not trying to divide the party over one issue, two issues. We want to multiply in our party, and I think somebody with experience can get that job done.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re saying you think if you win the nomination, you can bring most of the Buchanan people back into the fold?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I can bring most back in the fold. I’ve got a good, strong mainstream conservative record, but I’m not a polarizer. If they’re looking for a polarizer, I can’t do it, but I can also keep other people in the fold. And if we’re going to beat Bill Clinton in November, that’s our No. 1 job.

MARGARET WARNER: If you win here tomorrow, is your nomination pretty much assured?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I don’t know. Some people say that. But we’re going to head the next day for North and South Dakota, and on to Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona. It’s going to be full-time work all through March.

MARGARET WARNER: And if you come in second or third, what then?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: We’re going to head for North Dakota, South Dakota. It’s going to be full-time work all through March. I mean, my view is that we have the organization in the other states, we have money in the bank, we’ve got a good campaign organization. They’ve done an excellent job. And, you know, we’re not overconfident, but we feel, we feel good.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you, Senator. Thanks very much.

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Thank you.