The name's Rainbow.

So said the Secret Service in 1976 in assigning a security nickname to Elizabeth Dole. If that sold her short as a professional woman, it said plenty then and since about her relationship with Bob Dole (nicknamed Ramrod).Twenty years and four national campaigns later, she's still the splashy color to his grayness.

He's the dark suit standing on the podium before the fixed microphone. She's the sunny yellow dress with the body mike that frees her to roam the aisles.

That's the way it was in Salisbury, N.C., on a visit to her hometown in one of the Doles' few campaign appearances together. Mostly they travel apart - "ships in the night," she says - on some endless voyage.

She roamed Oprah-style again at a $1,000-a-plate Beverly Hills fund-raiser the day after Dole said he was quitting the Senate. She talked at some length about how her crusty husband had sobbed at a meeting before the announcement.

In wintry New Hampshire, it was Elizabeth subbing for a snowbound Bob at a party fund-raiser that drew all available GOP primary candidates. She went table to table, the Pat Buchanan entourage lighting up like the Dole crowd as she toured the big room - a grace note in a race then crackling and nasty.

"She was able to do what a lot of women (in politics) can't do, which is to exude confidence in her abilities and yet a warmth and ability to reach out," says Johanna Schneider, who was press secretary to Elizabeth Dole at the Labor Department.

"She had a tremendous rapport with audiences, probably better than I had seen with anybody."

These days her journey is for him and she gives scant clues to the woman behind the exuberance, presenting, as one scholar put it, "wisps of soft-focused photographs."

Elizabeth Dole, former transportation and labor secretary and now Red Cross chief on leave, is capable of putting her husband to sleep talking policy - no easy feat for a man who watches legislative proceedings on TV to relax.

Those "best before" dates on food, the air bags in cars and hot dogs that aren't quite as fatty as they used to be are a sampling of the now-humdrum legacies where she left a mark in two decades in government.

But when a would-be first lady campaigns, people inevitably look at bearing and temperament at least as much as what she's done.

In Elizabeth Dole, 59, they find the product of an old-time Southern upbringing, nights she said were spent "in a haze of satin and chiffon," as well as a woman who has negotiated the peculiar fog of Washington decisionmaking.

"Elizabeth Dole's paradigm is still the 1950s sorority sister, Southern debutante role model for women of her age and class and region," says Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian on first ladies.

"And yet there was a yearning for so much more. I think . . . she had to be single minded to achieve what she did on her own."

She's a May Queen who became responsible for planes, trains and automobiles, and making those little brake lights standard in car rear windows.

If that old gulf in stereotypical roles is bridged routinely now, it wasn't in the 1950s. At various stages of her life, Elizabeth Dole has taken stock of how male everything was around her.

"It had been said, somewhat cynically, that there were girls with dates, and girls with data," she wrote of her schooling at Duke University. But she saw herself as "an old hand at leaping walls."

At Harvard Law School, the five women in an English class of 150 weren't called on, she said, except during the annual Ladies Day when the teacher would summon them to the front to read poems of their own making.

Now she seems set on becoming the first presidential spouse with a full-time job, having said she will return to the Red Cross whether her husband wins or loses.

She won't be making health policy, the Doles are quick to note in drawing a contrast with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her influence. But she would want your blood.

Still, her plan to keep the job could subject the Doles to questions of conflict of interest more intense than they have faced during their 20 years together.

Washington regulates blood programs and has in the past sued the Red Cross to force or hasten changes. Several leading backers of Dole in his Senate career, meanwhile, poured millions into the Red Cross as charitable contributors since she took over.

Back in 1984, Florida developers threw a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser for the senator but used the occasion to lobby his wife, then transportation chief, for a highway interchange.

Then and now, the Doles have said they keep their work separate - most of the time.

Whether it's jettisoning a draft speech or deciding to quit the Senate in one of Washington's best kept secrets, Bob Dole has not been overly influenced by advisers and not one to let others, even his wife, throw him off a chosen path.

Writing in their autobiography, Elizabeth Dole recalled initiating pillow talk over her idea, later realized, that the capital's Dulles and National airports should no longer be run by the federal government.

Her husband said the notion wouldn't fly in Congress. She pressed on.

"Bob rolled over and went to sleep," she wrote. "I reached for a bedside note pad and began sketch-ing the outlines of a strategy to prove him wrong."

A florist's daughter, Elizabeth Hanford got an early start poking her nose into things. "I like to organize," she said. That led her into student government in Grade 3.

Her parents needed convincing when she wanted to study political science. A professor wrote to them on her behalf: "We need women in government. And anyway, they all get married, eventually."

She joined the White House consumer affairs office in 1968 during the flowering of the consumer movement and, in contrast to today's Republican emphasis on deregulation, pushed federal activism.

Unit pricing in grocery stores, ingredient listing on cosmetics and an effort to limit the fat content in hot dogs were among marketplace changes in which she had a hand.

In 1972, she met Dole, then GOP chairman coming off a broken marriage, and pitched to him a consumer plank for the party platform.

When they married almost four years later - her first marriage, at age 39 - she was on the Federal Trade Commission in another regulatory role sometimes at odds with her husband's small-government beliefs.

She debated him on a proposed consumer protection agency before a business group and again on TV. She advocated more rules here, fewer rules there and was not shy about threatening home builders with "hard-hitting regulation" if they didn't improve warranty performance.

"Perhaps no one in our society is more unjustly maligned than the bureaucrat," she once said.

But conflicting currents were at work at Transportation during the Reagan administration, the push to improve auto safety, for example, clashing with the move to reduce government power.

Elizabeth Dole introduced air bag standards in response to a court order, but various other proposals lagged, some to be picked up by the Bush administration.

"Elizabeth Dole is a very bright, intelligent person, but she is at her best when she has someone at the top saying, `We want to go in this direction,' " said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

"She was very poor on anything that involved controversy. She could have done so much more with what she had."

Near the end of her time as President Bush's labor secretary, Elizabeth Dole visited a migrant labor camp in Florida and returned to write a 150-page report recommending a crackdown on abuses of migrant workers.

"She was genuinely affected by it," said Bruce Goldstein, co-director of the Farmworker Justice Fund. "It was not a revolutionary program by any means but a real effort to figure out very objectively what could be accomplished."

But the effort lacked White House support and languished.

Now she joins her husband in talking up the 10th Amendment as the vehicle for moving federal power to the states. She paints him as a conservative with "heart, brains and guts."

"I think she would be one of those women who does not publicly discuss or divulge in any detail the degree to which she influences her husband's thinking and sensibilities," says historian Anthony, drawing a parallel with Lady Bird Johnson.

"It's sort of a coating - a protective coating. Mrs. Dole seems to be . . . one of those first ladies who's rather like an iceberg - you only see the tip."

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The resume of a longtime high achiever

NAME - Elizabeth Hanford Dole.

AGE-BIRTH DATE - 59. July 20, 1936.

EDUCATION - Bachelor's degree with political science honors from Duke University, 1958; postgraduate study at Oxford, 1959; master's degree in education, Harvard, 1960; Harvard law degree, 1965.

EXPERIENCE - White House consumer affairs adviser, 1968-73; member Federal Trade Commission, 1973-79 with leave during husband's 1976 vice presidential campaign; assistant to President Ronald Reagan for public liaison, 1981-83; transportation secretary, 1983-87; labor secretary, 1989-90, American Red Cross president since 1991 (now on unpaid leave).

FAMILY - Married Bob Dole in December 1975; stepdaughter Robin.

QUOTE - "Bob likes to say I'm never content to ask what time it is. I want to know how the clock was made."