Bob Dole, Senate leader and presidential candidate, dies at 98

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FILE – Former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole arrives at the Quicken Loans Arena before the evening session of the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. Bob Dole, who overcame disabling war wounds to become a sharp-tongued Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate and then a symbol and celebrant of his dwindling generation of World War II veterans, has died. He was 98. His wife, Elizabeth Dole, posted the announcement Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, on Twitter. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Bob Dole, who overcame disabling war wounds to become a sharp-tongued Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate and then a symbol and celebrant of his dwindling generation of World War II veterans, has died. He was 98.

His wife, Elizabeth Dole, posted the announcement Sunday on Twitter.

Dole announced in February 2021 that he’d been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, Dole became one of the most influential legislators and party leaders in the Senate, combining a talent for compromise with a caustic wit, which he often turned on himself but didn’t hesitate to turn on others, too.

He shaped tax policy, foreign policy, farm and nutrition programs and rights for the disabled, enshrining protections against discrimination in employment, education and public services in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Today’s accessible government offices and national parks, sidewalk ramps and the sign-language interpreters at official local events are just some of the more visible hallmarks of his legacy and that of the fellow lawmakers he rounded up for that sweeping civil rights legislation 30 years ago.

Dole devoted his later years to the cause of wounded veterans, their fallen comrades at Arlington National Cemetery and remembrance of the fading generation of World War II vets.

Thousands of old soldiers massed on the National Mall in 2004 for what Dole, speaking at the dedication of the World War II Memorial there, called “our final reunion.” He’d been a driving force in its creation. “Our ranks have dwindled,” he said then. “Yet if we gather in the twilight it is brightened by the knowledge that we have kept faith with our comrades.”

Long gone from Kansas, Dole made his life in the capital, at the center of power and then in its shadow upon his retirement, living all the while at the storied Watergate complex. When he left politics and joined a law firm staffed by prominent Democrats, he joked that he brought his dog to work so he would have another Republican to talk to.

He tried three times to become president. The last was in 1996, when he won the Republican nomination only to see President Bill Clinton reelected. He sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 and was the 1976 GOP vice presidential candidate on the losing ticket with President Gerald Ford.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe released the following statement after the death of his longtime friend:

“Bob Dole was a giant of the Senate and I was honored to serve with him. He was one of the last of the World War II heroes that I was privileged to serve with and we were close friends. As a veteran, presidential candidate, Republican leader and faithful volunteer with the Honor Flight program, Bob’s loyal service to this country was seen time and time again—but I must confess that I will miss his humor the most. He understood the power of laughter to unify even the most divided political opposition. Kay and I are keeping Elizabeth, Robin and their entire family in our prayers as we share in honoring the remarkable life of Bob Dole.”

Congressman Tom Cole issued the following statement:

“Bob Dole was not only ‘Mr. Republican,’ he was ‘Mr. America,’ too. Senator Dole carried the scars of service to our country in combat for his entire adult life. The Senator served in peace as well as war as a county prosecutor in Kansas and a Member of both the U.S. House and Senate, where he rose to Majority Leader, one of the most powerful positions in American politics.

Of course, Bob Dole’s service to his beloved Republican Party was exemplary. He served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1976 and, 20 years later, the Republican presidential nominee in an epic clash with former President Clinton. Dole lost that race, but his vigorous campaign held the highly regarded Clinton under 50 percent of the popular vote and probably saved the Republican majorities in the Senate and the House.

Despite his intense loyalty to his party, Bob Dole was widely admired on both sides of the aisle and was famous for his ability to assemble bipartisan coalitions in pursuit of important national legislation. His partnership on the issue of hunger with the late Democratic Senator George McGovern was legendary. So, too, were the coalitions he created between rural Republicans and urban Democrats to pass the famously bipartisan ‘Farm Bill.’ It is revealing that in a gesture of respect and civility, his old adversary Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for service to our country.

As a senior party official, a political consultant and a Member of Congress, I campaigned and interacted with Senator Dole on countless occasions beginning in the 1980s through the 2010s. And I bumped into him several times at the World War II Memorial escorting groups of his fellow Second World War veterans to and through ‘their Memorial’ in Washington, D.C.

Bob Dole was always the happy political warrior with a cutting wit, a slashing style and verve for the fight that was unmatched in politics. As a next-door Kansas neighbor, Bob Dole knew Oklahomans and Oklahoma issues well. He had countless friends in our state and will be deeply missed and sincerely mourned in Oklahoma.

I extend my deepest sympathy to his amazing wife, Elizabeth, a former cabinet secretary and Senator in her own right, as well as the entire Dole family. There is no doubt my party has lost a great Republican, but, more importantly, America has lost a great patriot and I have lost a wonderful friend and role model.”

Congressman Tom Cole

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