PASADENA, Calif. -- Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole has been around more than his share of presidential campaigns. He was the Republican National chairman during Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election bid; he was Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976.
He made a run for the White House himself in 1988, and won the GOP's nomination in 1996.And Dole will have a part to play during the current campaign, albeit one that few would have predicted. He is joining Comedy Central's "InDecision 2000" team and will provide commentary during the primaries, the conventions, the general election campaign and election night itself.
Dole's role will include frequent appearances on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." And what Comedy Central executives hope he brings to the proceedings, believe it or not, is credibility.
Hmmm. What is this, Comedy Central or Credibility Central? While this is by no means criticism, credibility hasn't often seemed to be a top priority on "The Daily Show."
"I think what we do is say things that no one else is allowed to say," said Debbie Leibling, head of development for the cable channel. "I think Jon will probably ask Bob the questions that Bob may or may not choose to answer. And I think Bob is a skilled enough politician to know how to do it and still provide us with the comedy."
Indeed, Dole has proven himself to be a very funny man. His appearances in venues like the "Late Show with David Letterman" following his 1996 loss to Bill Clinton displayed a dry wit that, had he loosened up before the election, might have improved his chances.
And in his first appearance as a regular Comedy Central political analyst earlier this week, Dole once again displayed both his wit and his wisdom. He came up with some very funny lines.
Commenting on the effects of John McCain's big win in New Hampshire, Dole said, "Even Hillary Clinton today is claiming she was a prisoner of war in Arkansas for several years. There's a lot of people trying to copy John McCain today."
And, on the Democratic side, Dole said, "Bradley is sort of a longshot, but the longer he stays in the more exciting Gore looks."
Dole also displayed the sort of candor you don't get from incumbent politicians. When Stewart asked about the potshots Steve Forbes took at the GOP standard bearer four years ago, Dole stated flatly that there was a personal animosity between the two of them.
"I was very glad to see Forbes finish a poor third," he said of this year's New Hampshire primary. "I wish he could have finished lower.
"He has some good qualities, it's just they haven't surfaced yet."
Even Stewart seemed somewhat surprised at all of the former senator's one-liners.
"Wait a second -- do we have Bob Dole or Bob Hope on the show tonight?" Stewart asked.
Dole demonstrated that sense of humor in an appearance on "The Daily Show" a few months ago -- an appearance that brought the retired politician to the attention of the cable network.
"He is a very funny guy," said Tony Fox, Comedy Central's senior vice president of corporate communications. "I know you don't see it often, but we're giving him an opportunity to be funny. But he also brings credibility and access."
Credibility? In a rather odd way, what they're saying at Comedy Central actually makes sense.
"I think to have a source like Bob Dole . . . provides those who are writing the questionable credible commentary something to bounce off of, and some real facts to spin the comedy off of," Liebling said. "I think he will serve a purpose. We're not trying to build a network news department here at Comedy Central. I think he's really serving (as) a contrast. One wouldn't expect to find Sen. Bob Dole on Comedy Central."
And Fox said the addition of Dole builds on a tradition of Comedy Central election coverage in 1992 and 1996 when the cable channel had the likes of Al Franken, Ariana Huffington and Chris Rock doing commentary.
"These guys knew what was going on," Fox said. "They knew the candidates. They knew the policy issues. They were very, very familiar with the process."
(OK . . . but you've got to wonder how Dole would feel about being the successor to Franken, Huffington and Rock.)
"I think what we were able to do back in '96, and what we hope to do again in 2000, is to demonstrate that our guys are just as smart, just as informed and just as connected as their mainstream media counterparts," Fox said. "But they have the freedom to say things that the mainstream media does not. And that's where I think we do score with our viewers, because they are getting that information."
But mostly what they're getting is lots of laughs at the expense of the current crop of candidates.
Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" airs Monday-Thursday at midnight, with repeats at 2:30 a.m. and Monday-Friday at 9:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.