Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bob Dole Steps into New Role: Top Republican

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bob Dole Steps into New Role: Top Republican

Article excerpt

ONCE elevated by the voters to the role of his party's top elected official, Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, quickly found his voice and a new purpose in politics after a long season as the chief backup man for occupants of the White House. Early indications are that Senator Dole will thrive in his new situation.

Dole was quick to signal that he sees it as a dual role of Republican watchdog and chaperon to President-elect Clinton for the four years ahead, leaving the door open for the kind of partisan confrontation Dole excels at but George Bush disliked.

Dole told Senate Republicans at a post-election caucus that their strategy would be to help Clinton when he's right, fight him when he's wrong.

He quickly united Republicans behind him by giving voice to the partisan anger they feel over the release four days before the election of a new indictment of former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger in the Iran-contra case, plus a memo which hurt President Bush at the end of the campaign.

Bush aides claim this stopped his surge in the polls and Dole wants an investigation of the timing of the indictment.

It was a master stroke, given the fact that a lot of conservatives, especially those around Jack Kemp, were writing off Dole and his colleagues as "the last gasp" of the moderate wing of the party.

Dole's decision to take a lead role imitates a similar move by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine, a mild-mannered but intensely partisan man who played a major but unheralded role in bringing down Bush over the last four years by reviving the memory of the GOP as "the party of the rich."

Senator Mitchell's predecessor as majority leader, West Virginia's Robert Byrd, refused to be a partisan leader. But, though he didn't telegraph his moves, Mitchell had no qualms about partisanship.

To label the GOP as the rich man's party, Mitchell led the filibuster that killed a cut in the capital-gains tax in the fall of 1989. …

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