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Dole says wife is 'trying harder'

Bob Dole

Elizabeth Dole

WEST VALLEY CITY -- Elizabeth Dole's race for the presidency is "going pretty well," says her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole. Then he can't resist a quip recalling a rental car commercial. "You know, she's not number one, but she's trying harder."

The 1996 Republican presidential nominee dismissed a newspaper report that his wife was angry with him for contributing to the campaign of a rival for the 2000 election, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"Well, that was sort of a non-story," he told the Deseret News during a stop here on Saturday. "I don't know what The New York Times is trying to do. But obviously you can have friends in this business.

"They're not all my enemies because they're running against Elizabeth. John McCain . . . nominated me. I wore his POW bracelet when he was locked up in prison over there (North Vietnam). The fact that I gave him a few dollars isn't going to change the outcome.

"But you know, that's The New York Times. They're not out to help Republicans."

Asked whether his wife held it against him that he expressed some support for McCain, Dole replied, "No, I mean, all that speculation -- people picked it up as though I wasn't supporting her.

"But she knew better than that," said Dole, who delivered the keynote address Saturday afternoon at the first annual Men's Health and Fitness Exposition, held in the largely vacant E Center.

Dole said he is not only campaigning for his wife, but upon leaving the E Center he planned to visit with "a little group here . . . people who want to help her raise money in Utah."

Attended by about 150 to 200 people, the exposition -- which was free to the public -- focused on health but the discussion inevitably turned to politics.

Asked to comment on the possibility that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also would run for president, Dole said he wasn't aware of that. He had just returned to the United States from a week overseas.

"Orrin thought about it in '96," he noted. "That's a right he has," running for president. "He's a very bright guy, knowledgeable guy."

If Hatch wants to try it, Dole added, he had better get moving. "The grass is growing pretty fast out there, so he'll have to get his mower out and go to work."

Has he talked to his wife about the possibility she could become vice president?

"Oh no, she doesn't want to talk about that," Dole said. "She's running for president, and I'm very proud of that, because she's the first credible woman candidate that we've had.

"She's had more experience than the other candidate," Texas Gov. George W. Bush. In polls among Republicans, Elizabeth Dole consistently comes in a distant second to Bush.

"She just needs to get out there," Dole said. "She won't raise as much money as Bush, but she's got energy and intelligence. She's going to be a great candidate."

Dole said he would be carrying her luggage during the campaign. He'll be looking at her as she makes the same speech for the 30th time, he said, smiling and trying to act as if he had never heard it before.

During his sometimes-rambling address at the E Center, Dole wandered across the raised stage, at times holding his right hand (paralyzed in combat during World War II) with his left. After the talk, he engaged in a question-and-answer session, walking off the stage and onto the darkened floor.

Standing directly next to the first seats, he discussed health, funding for research and other issues with members of the audience.

Asked if there was one message he would like to get across to men about their health, Dole said, "See your doctor . . . If you can't get in, call me and I'll call your doctor."