Bob Dole's presidential campaign is getting a second shot out of the starting gate, with a hastily planned rally in Chicago.
Though the Senate majority leader doesn't shed his title or his Senate seat for several weeks, the one-stop trip to Illinois Thursday is meant to symbolize Dole's clean break from the Congress - and serve as a starting point for what aides hope will be a rejuvenated campaign."Our campaign will leave Washington behind to look to America," Dole said Wednesday in announcing that he would resign his seat as Kansas senator and the powerful post of majority leader by June 11.
"This gives him the opportunity to go out there and frame himself rather than be framed by the White House," Michael Deaver, former aide to President Ronald Reagan, told CBS-TV.
Added Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour in an interview with ABC-TV, "Now he can concentrate totally on taking his campaign away from Washington to where the voters are."
Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Dole was running away from Washington problems. He called the move a "political gimmick" that won't help in the long run.
"You can change your clothes, change your makeup, change the location of where you are, but you still have to have a message that people care about," Dodd said on NBC's "Today" show.
Still, most Americans believe Dole did the right thing in resigning from the Senate, a poll taken hours after the announcement suggested.
Of those who heard of Dole's decision, 60 percent approved while 30 percent said he should have stayed in the Senate during the campaign, according to a CBS News poll.
Once Dole informed top aides Tuesday night of his decision, they quickly planned the Chicago trip, figuring that the best way to make his point was to rush him out onto the campaign trail.
Unlike a tearful meeting with his Senate office staff and the emotion-choked resignation speech he gave afterward, Dole reined in his feelings before his colleagues Wednesday afternoon.
"It was vintage Dole," Utah Sen. Robert Bennett said of the surprise announcement. "He did not get emotional at the senators' goodbye. But a number of us in the room got quite emotional because we recognized just what we were losing."
The loss was both personal and institutional. Dole, who calls the domed Capitol home, has represented Kansans here for 35 years. In December, he broke a 1944 record for the longest-serving Senate Republican leader. Now, as he turns to focus exclusively on his presidential campaign, that record-breaking term will end at more than 11 years.
With it ends an era.
The 72-year-old senator has been in Congress so long that colleagues call him "a Man of the Senate," a part of the institution. Dole himself has acknowledged that he is more comfortable dodging filibusters and debating cloture petitions than trumpeting his candidacy in stump speeches.
Over the next two weeks, Dole is to campaign in North Carolina, Florida and California - other key battleground states for the Republican challenger to President Clinton - and campaign aides were already working to fill his schedule for June.
Since officially launching his third bid for the presidency on April 10 of last year, Dole weathered a bruising Republican primary season only to find his candidacy languishing as much as 20 points behind Clinton in national polls.
Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar was among the throngs of Republicans who delighted Wednesday in the news that Dole would no longer be distracted by day-to-day Senate duties and a Democratic minority that has frustrated Dole's initial strategy of using his Senate perch to draw contrasts with Clinton.
"Bob Dole will now be able to take his case to the American people - to explain the differences between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton - instead of trying to accomplish these goals in the current atmosphere of Beltway politics," Edgar said in a statement before Dole's Chicago visit.
The afternoon rally, planned for a downtown hotel ballroom, was guaranteed to keep the media spotlight on Dole.
Chicago is the media capital of the electorally important Midwest and, within hours of Dole's dramatic announcement, all but a handful of the press seats on his charter jet were sold out - unprecedented for the Dole campaign to date.
On the inside
- Hatch, Bennett applaud Dole's "bold" move/A2
- Lott, Cochran jockey for majority leader post/A2
- Kansans start lining up more Senate candidates/A2