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Bob Dole, WWII veteran and three-time presidential candidate, dead at age 98

Bob Dole, a decorated veteran who overcame near fatal wounds in World War II to become a respected Senator and three-time Republican presidential candidate, died on Sunday.

He was 98.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. More information coming soon,” the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced on Twitter.

Dole, who was born in Russell, Kansas, on July 22, 1923, left public service after his loss to Bill Clinton in November 1996 but remained active, appearing on television, serving on several boards and councils, practicing law and supporting Republican candidates.

During an appearance on the David Letterman late night show days after he lost to Clinton, Dole tried to laugh off his defeat.

Asked by the funnyman what he had been doing lately, Dole deadpanned: “Apparently not enough.”

In one of his final public appearances, Dole rose from his wheelchair to salute former President George H.W. Bush in December 2018 as he paid his respects to the fellow World War II vet and former political rival as the 41st president lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Bush beat out Dole for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1988, but Dole didn’t bear a grudge.

“This is a case where two political enemies became fast, fast friends, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Dole said at a commemoration of Pearl Harbor’s 75th anniversary in 2016.

Dole, who was wounded by German machine gun fire while fighting in Italy in April 1945, was a longtime advocate for the rights of the disabled – an issue of personal relevance to him.

As a 21-year-old platoon leader, Dole was trying to pull a radioman from the line of fire when he was struck in the upper back and right arm.

It took three years of treatment and countless setbacks before he was able to recover from the wounds, although he lost the use of his right arm and most of the feeling in his left.

Dole, who received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with a “V” for valor for his actions, always carried a pen in his right hand to discourage people from trying to shake hands with him.

“Experiencing a disability yourself, you could almost walk around with a blindfold and pick out the other people with disabilities. … Having a disability changes your whole life, not just your attitude,” he said in an interview with Disability magazine.

Despite being beaten by Bush for the GOP nomination in 1988, Dole, who was the Senate Majority Leader at the time, strongly promoted his former rival’s agenda and helped assure passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Dole was the son of father Doran Ray Dole, who ran a small creamery, and mother, Bina, who sold sewing machines. He had one brother, Kenny, and two sisters, Gloria and Norma.

The young Dole was a skilled athlete, competing in football, basketball and track in high school.

He played basketball for a year at the University of Kansas before entering the service in 1942.

His first foray into politics came after the war in 1950, when he won a two-year term in the Kansas House of Representatives.

By the time he finished his term, Dole had graduated from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, with a law degree.

He then became the Russell County prosecuting attorney.

In 1960, he landed on the national political stage after winning election to the US House of Representatives where he served four terms.

Learning of the impending retirement of Sen. Frank Carlson, Dole set his sights on the US Senate.

He defeated Kansas Gov. William Avery for the Republican nomination and went on to win the seat in 1968 — the same year Richard Nixon was elected president.

He continued to be re-elected until he retired in 1996 after losing the presidential election to Clinton.

During his time in the upper chamber, Dole served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 to 1973, chaired the Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1985 and led Senate Republicans from 1985 to 1996, serving as Senate Majority Leader twice.

Along the way, he ran for president twice and vice president once.

President Gerald Ford picked Dole as his running mate in 1976 after Nelson Rockefeller said he would rather retire than run for a full term.

It was the first presidential election after Nixon stepped down in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Democrat Jimmy Carter ran as a reformer on a ticket with Walter Mondale as his running mate.

In a debate with Mondale, Dole blamed Democratic presidents for all of the wars of the 20th century — comments that many viewed as unduly harsh.

“I figured it out the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit,” he said.

Carter defeated Ford, winning the popular vote by a margin of 50.08 to 48.02 percent.

Attempting to parlay his name recognition as Ford’s running mate, Dole entered the 1980 Republican presidential primary but soon dropped out after finishing behind Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Howard Baker in the New Hampshire primary election.

Reagan eventually won the nomination and the election with Bush as his vice president.

In 1988, at the end of Reagan’s second term, Dole announced his candidacy during a ceremony in his Kansas hometown.

Dole started out strong, finishing ahead of Bush in the Iowa caucuses, but then lost to Bush in New Hampshire.

It didn’t help that during a debate Dole appeared to lose his temper and snapped “stop lying about my record” to Bush, who portrayed his opponent in campaign ads as waffling on whether he would raise taxes.

In his third run for president, in 1996, Dole finally won his party’s nomination.

He and his vice presidential candidate, Jack Kemp, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, set out to stop Clinton and Al Gore from winning a second term.

Clinton’s campaign portrayed Dole as somebody who would work with Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to gut the country’s social programs.

Clinton won with a decisive margin in the Electoral College — 379 to 159.

A year later, Clinton awarded Dole the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House.

“I had a dream that I would be, this historical week, receiving something from the president,” Dole said to the gathering. “But I thought it would be the front door key.”

After leaving office, Dole joined a Washington, DC, law firm, gave speeches, wrote several books and chaired the fund-raising effort for the  National World War II Memorial.

In 2003, he opened the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, an organization focused on creating bipartisanship in politics.

He was also a pitchman for a number of products, including Visa, Dunkin’ Donuts and Viagra.

In later years, Dole struggled with health problems.

He was treated for abdominal aortic aneurysm, had a hip replacement and was hospitalized for a bout of pneumonia after having knee surgery.

In February 2021, he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. 

“While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” he said in a statement at the time.

Dole married Elizabeth Hanford in 1975.

She had been Reagan’s Secretary of Transportation and later represented North Carolina in the US Senate from 2003 to 2009.

He divorced his first wife, Phyllis Holden, in 1972. They had one child, Robin, who was born in October 1954.


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