Republican icon and former Clinton opponent dies

Bob Dole, a former US Senate majority leader and the GOP presidential nominee who failed to block Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996, has died aged 98.

The Kansas native and former World War II hero died in his sleep on Sunday morning, according to an announcement by the charitable foundation of his wife, Elizabeth Dole. “At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America for 79 years,” the foundation said.

Dole announced last February that he was battling advanced lung cancer. President Joe Biden, who served with Dole in the Senate for more than two decades, called his former colleague “an American statesman like few in our history.” Biden added, “Bob was a man to be admired by Americans. He had an unerring sense of integrity and honor.”

Dole represented Kansas in the Senate from 1969 through 1996 after previously serving in the US House for eight years. He ran three times for president and was the vice-presidential running mate of then-President Gerald Ford, who failed to win re-election in 1976.

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Although then 73, making him one of the oldest US presidential candidates in US history, it was Dole’s turn for the Republican nomination in 1996. Having been the top-ranking Republican in the Senate for 11 years, then a record, he took on then-President Clinton.

Clinton had been mired in scandals – though the public didn’t yet know that he was having an affair with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky – but the incumbent trounced Dole by more than eight million votes and won 70% of the electoral votes.  

Dole left college to join the Army during World War II. He was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. Then a 21-year-old platoon leader, he was injured in Italy’s Apennine mountains just weeks before the war in Europe ended in 1945. While trying to rescue his radioman, the second lieutenant was cut down by German machine gun fire or a mortar, causing him to lose a kidney and be temporarily paralyzed.

The Army wrote to Dole’s parents that his survival was “somewhat questionable,” but he recovered after three years of treatment. However, he permanently lost use of his right arm and never regained much of the feeling in his left arm. The politician carried a pen in his right hand during public outings to keep it from balling up and to discourage people from trying to shake it.

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Dole championed programs to help make the world more accessible for people with disabilities. He helped pass the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. His injury helped motivate him to get into politics. He won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives in 1950, at age 27, two years before finishing law school.

Dole also advocated rapid expansion of NATO to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic while calling for a “firm security relationship” with Russia. He was an ally of former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who chaired his 1996 campaign, and helped lead America’s support for the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo.

After leaving elected office, he campaigned as an advocate of military veterans and raised money for war memorials. Dole also starred in television commercials, including spots for Viagra. “Only a Republican would think the best part of Viagra is the fact that you could make money off of it,” he quipped in a humorous book on his political career.

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