Born: July 22, 1923;

Died: December 5, 2021.

BOB Dole, who has died aged 98, was a prominent American politician who represented Kansas for the best part of three decades, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate, where he was Republican and majority leader. Widely admired as a deft political fixer, he was Gerald Ford’s vice-presidential running mate in his unsuccessful election campaign in 1976, then made three attempts to secure the Republican nomination for president. He succeeded in 1996, when he ran against the incumbent, Bill Clinton.

But while Clinton had achieved little in his first term, and was already beset by allegations about his personal and financial affairs, the economy was doing well, and Dole had been warned by former president Richard Nixon that, in such circumstances, Clinton would win.

Dole’s age at the time (he was 73) and physically infirmity (he had been seriously injured during the Second World War) contrasted sharply with Clinton’s relatively youthful optimism. He also faced the difficulty that, while seen by Democrats and more liberal Republicans as a reactionary conservative, the GOP was chiefly being driven by the agenda of Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America”, which had led to two federal government shutdowns in the previous year.

Its supporters saw Dole’s consensual and managerial approach to politics as, at best, the Beltway politics they wanted to sweep aside and, less plausibly, as downright leftist (he had played a part in introducing food stamps, disability rights and Martin Luther King Day).

In the end, however, Dole secured his own comfortable defeat by running one of the most awkward and shapeless presidential campaigns of recent times. He seemed to have no clear, or at least clearly presentable, message or strategy; his team was constantly reshuffled as the polls steadily moved towards the Democrats; his speeches were incoherently drafted and poorly delivered; and when he fell from the stage during a rally in California he looked frail and elderly.

Clinton romped home with 379 electoral college seats to Dole’s 159, becoming the first Democrat to secure a second term in more than half a century.

Robert Joseph Dole was born on July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kansas, the son of Doran Ray Dole and his wife, Bina. His father ran a small creamery and, later, a grain store, while his mother sold sewing machines. The family struggled financially during the Depression but by moving into the basement, they managed to hold on to their house, which remained Dole’s official residence throughout his long political career.

After Russell High School, Dole went to the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship (basketball, football and track) and, with support from family friends, initially planned to become a doctor. His studies were interrupted by the war and in 1942 he became a lieutenant in the US Army 10th Mountain Division, serving in Italy.

In 1945, he was seriously injured near Bologna by a shell that shattered his shoulder and upper spine. Oaralysed and not expected to live, he was sent home where he slowly recovered after a series of operations in Chicago. He never regained full mobility in his right arm (he held a pen in order to avoid having to shake hands) and underwent long-term occupational therapy, where he met and married his first wife, Phyllis Holden.

Discharged with two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valour in the rank of aptain, he resumed his studies at the University of Arizona in 1948, and then Washburn, at Topeka, Kansas, graduating in 1952 with undergraduate and law degrees.

Even before graduation he had begun his political career in the Kansas House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1950. In 1952, he became County Attorney for Russell, his home county. In 1960, he proceeded to represent the state’s 6th District in the House of Representatives, until 1969. In Congress, he voted in favour of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In 1968, he defeated a former governor to secure the Republican Senate nomination for Kansas, and was duly elected.

He held the seat in four subsequent elections, standing down in 1996 to run for president. His first big job came when he chaired the Republican National Committee, from 1971/73. He was replaced by George HW Bush – a blessing in disguise as the Nixon administration became enmired in the Watergate scandal.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, he served on the Agriculture and then Finance committees. He had made gaffes as Ford’s running-mate (notably appearing to blame Democrats for both world wars), which may have secured Jimmy Carter’s narrow win, but by the 1980s his rather hardline reputation appeared more mainstream, and he became Senate Majority Leader in 1984. He returned to the post after the 1994 midterms, when the Republicans swept both House and Senate.

Dole’s reputation steadily grew, and by 1995 he was widely cited as a safe pair of hands, as a master of procedure, an accomplished backroom fixer and (in part due to his war record and partly because of his political longevity) of greater political stature than any competitors. He may have felt, too, that after his time as Senate leader and two previous runs, there was

no option but to go for the presidency.

After his defeat in 1996, he made no attempt to return to an active political post, but engaged in writing, lecturing and lobbying roles. He also unexpectedly proved a hit on talk, panel and comedy shows, and capitalised on his celebrity with numerous commercials, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Pepsi (with Britney Spears) and Viagra. The newly-relaxed Dole was even happy to send himself up on The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live.

He wrote a memoir, set up a political institute and supported numerous charities, including those for war veterans, child nutrition and disabilities. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018. Dole was the only previous Republican nominee prepared to endorse Donald Trump as president although by the time Trump lost to Biden a year ago, he was happy to accept the result, saying he was “Trumped out”.

Dole had a daughter with his first wife, Phyllis. They divorced in 1972 and she died in 2008. He married his second wife, Elizabeth, herself a notable Republican politician, in 1975. They had no children.