Elizabeth Dole: A Big Draw on the GOP Fundraising Circuit
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Elizabeth Dole’s status as the top woman in the Bush administration - and her flair for charming Republican troops - are making the secretary of labor a big draw on the national campaign scene.
″She gets down off of the pedestal and she becomes one of the many,″ said Hillard Selck, a Republican National Committeeman from Missouri.
″There’s no ‘Stay away from me, stay behind the barrier, I’m too good for you.’ That impresses people. They like to be able to touch,″ Selck said.
Mrs. Dole, 54, is campaigning in more than a dozen states this fall for more than 60 gubernatorial and House and Senate candidates.
Among President Bush’s Cabinet secretaries, she’s at the top of the list of campaigners that GOP candidates eye when scouting for big names to invigorate rank-and-file party members, Republican officials said. Jack Kemp, secretary of housing and urban development, also is in high demand.
Today, at the request of the White House, she traveled to New England to campaign in Bush’s place because the president decided to stay in Washington to lobby for a deficit-reduction plan.
She was asked to step in for Bush at a $1,000-a-plate luncheon in Boston to raise money for the Massachusetts GOP, gubernatorial candidate William Weld and Senate candidate James Rappaport. Later, she was to appear at Bush’s behest in Waterbury, Conn., for congressional hopeful Gary Franks.
Sen. Pete Wilson of California has lured Mrs. Dole in twice since July to help his gubernatorial race. He’s made a bid to have her back for a third swing right before the November election.
On her last visit to help Wilson, 600 tickets for a $100-a-plate dinner sold out, netting Wilson a quick $50,000 or more that evening, said campaign manager Otto Bos. Mrs. Dole also has campaigned for Rep. Lynn Martin in Illinois, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Paul Simon; Gov. Kay Orr in Nebraska, running for re-election; Clayton Williams, bidding for the governorship in Texas; Gov. Mike Hayden, seeking a second term in Kansas; and Rep. Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island, attempting to oust Democratic Sen. Claibrne Pell.
Part of her draw, Republicans say, is that Mrs. Dole herself is a GOP success story. The Harvard-educated lawyer served as President Reagan’s transportation secretary before Bush nabbed her for the Labor Department post.
″She’s a good speaker and very dynamic. Here you have a prime example of someone who is a pro, who excels at what she does. To have someone like that showcased for you is a plus,″ Bos said.
Mrs. Dole is not without critics.
Champions of workers’ rights give her credit for resurrecting an agency widely considered a nonentity during the Reagan era. Yet they also wonder if some of her projects - such as well-publicized crackdowns on child labor violators and mandatory seat belts for job-related travel - carry much substance.
″I don’t think anyone in the administration signifies the dichotomy within the White House better than Liddy Dole,″ said Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont. ″She presents a kinder and gentler face, but precious little decision- making or leadership.″
Joseph Kinney, who runs the National Safe Workplace Institute, a private watchdog group in Chicago, contended that Mrs. Dole’s pledge to improve worker safety is ″all bark and no bite.″
Still, despite her skeptics, Mrs. Dole has few enemies on Capitol Hill.
She dismisses speculation that she plans to step down to run for the North Carolina Senate seat now held by Terry Sanford, a first-term Democrat up for re-election in 1992.
″I have plenty of challenges right where I am,″ Mrs. Dole said during a recent interview from her Labor Department office.
″One politician in the family’s probably enough for the time being,″ she said, referring to her husband, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. But she didn’t rule out a future bid for some type of elective job.
″That’s not to say that some time, at some point ... I think if you’re a person who enjoys people, who has been in the political system all your life, that’s a possibility ... but I have no plans to do that now,″ she said.
Mrs. Dole has been campaigning this year in North Carolina, her home state, for Sen. Jesse Helms’ re-election bid, and aides think her activity there may be fueling the speculation. They note that she has been a registered voter in Kansas since the early 1980s and would have to switch to run in North Carolina.
Some observers suggest that Bush, should he decide to replace Vice President Dan Quayle in 1992, would select Mrs. Dole as the first female Republican vice presidential candidate. She was on Bush’s short list in 1988, but the president has said he will keep Quayle on the ticket.
The speculation helps keep her in demand on the GOP political fundraising circuit.
″Everybody thinks she’s on her way to bigger and better things. They like to rub elbows with a VP candidate,″ said Tom Ballus, a spokesman for the North Carolina state GOP.