Utah's senators say they were truly shocked - and even cried - when Bob Dole called Republican senators together Wednesday to bid good-bye and tell them he was resigning from the Senate.
But the more they thought about it, they say the clearer it became that it was the type of bold, imaginative, politically savvy decision that makes Dole one of America's best leaders - and a trusted friend."My first reaction was great surprise," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. Even though he had spent weeks traveling with Dole this year as a nearly full-time campaign adviser, he said he had no hint about Dole's decision until he announced it to them.
"The more I think about it, however, I have to admire Bob Dole's political instincts. His campaign needed a jump start. People on the campaign trail complained they weren't seeing him. Now he can be there without worrying about getting back for a vote."
Bennett added, "Democrats were holding everything up in an effort to tarnish his image. Now they lose that target to shoot at. I think it is a very strong, bold, imaginative stroke."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, agrees. "I think Dole was facing a completely partisan Democratic Party in the Senate, which was filibustering everything for the sole purpose of making him and the Congress look bad."
He added that giving up the most powerful job in the Senate in a make-or-break drive for the presidency shows "Dole's whole life is about taking risks and standing up and taking the slings and arrows of political fortune to do what's right."
"He's overcome every adversity, and is a heroic figure. He reminds me of my brother," Hatch said.
For Hatch to say that anyone reminds him of his brother - who was killed in World War II and for whose memory Hatch tries to work extra hard - it is the highest compliment Hatch can give.
Bennett said Dole told the senators - all of whom later appeared with him at his public announcement - that he made the decision to resign 30 to 60 days ago but told only top party leaders so they could discuss how and when to do it.
"He said it was amazing it didn't leak. But the reason was he didn't tell any senators," Bennett said.
Bennett said that demonstrates another side of Dole. "Once he makes up his mind about what he wants, he goes after it with a degree of determination and tenacity that very few other people have."
He added that Dole explained to fellow senators, "It wasn't fair to Kansas to not have a full-time senator. . . . It wasn't fair to Republicans to not have a full-time leader. . . . It wasn't fair to the millions of Republicans who chose him as their nominee not to have a full-time candidate. So he's going to solve those problems."
Hatch said that as always, "Dole tried to keep a stiff upper lip when he talked to us and to use wit and humor. But at the end, he just broke down and cried. I have to say I cried, too."