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Bob Dole (1923–2021), longtime U.S. senator from Kansas

by Linnea Crowther

Bob Dole represented Kansas as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1996 and ran for president against Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996.

Early life

Dole was a Kansas native, born July 22, 1923, in the small town of Russell. He attended the University of Kansas, first as a pre-med student, though he later decided to study law. His college career was interrupted by World War II, during which Dole served in the U.S. Army.

His war years had a lasting impact on his life: He was gravely injured by machine-gun fire while fighting in Italy, hit in his back and right arm. His injuries nearly took his life both on the battlefield and again after he was sent home to the U.S. for treatment, when he had to fight a severe infection. Though Dole recovered beyond doctors’ expectations, his right arm and hand remained partially paralyzed. In his political career, Dole took to holding a pen in this hand to minimize its unusual appearance. The Army honored Dole with two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with a V for valor.

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Upon returning from the war, Dole continued his studies, attending the University of Arizona and Washburn University, and received a law degree as well as admittance to the bar. While still in school, Dole ran for the Kansas House of Representatives in 1950 and won, serving a single term. After his term ended, he practiced law and served several terms as the county attorney for Russell County.

U.S. Congress

Dole entered national politics in 1960 when he successfully campaigned for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served there until Jan. 3, 1969. In 1968, voters elected him to the U.S. Senate. During his five terms in the Senate from 1969 to 1996, he served on committees including the Republican National Committee, Agriculture Committee and Finance Committee, of which he was chairman. He was majority leader from 1985 to 1987, minority leader from 1987 to 1995, and majority leader again from 1995 to 1996.

Presidential ambitions

While serving in the Senate, Dole ran for vice president in 1976 with presidential candidate Gerald Ford (1913 – 2006), losing in a narrow margin to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and again in 1988, but was defeated by Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) and George H.W. Bush (1924 – 2018), respectively.

In 1996, Dole announced that he would not run for re-election to the Senate, choosing instead to focus on a third bid for the presidency. He won the Republican Party’s nomination, defeating other contenders including Pat Buchanan and Arlen Specter (1930 – 2012). Choosing Jack Kemp (1935 – 2009) as his running mate, Dole challenged Democrat Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot (1930 – 2019), losing to Clinton in a landslide. The loss made Dole the only person to have won a major U.S. party’s nominations for both vice president and president without being elected to either office.

Retirement

Dole retired from politics after losing the 1996 election, and in the years after his retirement, he became a writer, public speaker and consultant. He wrote several books, including two memoirs and a reflection on presidential humor, “Great Presidential Wit (… I Wish I Was in the Book): A Collection of Humorous Anecdotes and Quotations,” in which he ranked the U.S. presidents in order of their funniness – Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) won. He famously shilled for products including Viagra, and he made TV appearances on “Larry King Live,” on which he was an occasional commentator, as well as “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Dole was known for his dry sense of humor and for frequently referring to himself in the third person. He is survived by his second wife, former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole, and by his daughter from a previous marriage, Robin.

Dole on the biggest change in politics since he ran for president

“Money. Now they talk about raising $1 billion to run for president. It’s unreal. We need to do something to stop all this money in politics. I’ve always believed when people give big money, they — maybe silently — expect something in return.” —from a 2015 interview with AARP Bulletin

Tributes to Bob Dole

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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