SINCE DOLE HIMSELF could not create a message, his handlers sought to graft one onto his announcement speech when he officially declared his candidacy in April 1995. The result was something dubbed the "three R's," which read like the output of a paint-by-the-numbers kit but which Dole manfully articulated first in Kansas and then in the seven other states he visited during his announcement tour: "My mandate as president would be to rein in the federal government, to reconnect our government in Washington with the commonsense values of our citizens, and to reassert American interests around the world."
As awkward as this recitation was for him, the candidate retained his humor and perspective. "You know you have a big stake in my candidacy," he told me onboard his campaign charter plane on announcement day.
"What would that be?" I asked.
If I'm elected," he said grinning, "I'll be the first president named Bob."
That notion might have served him as well as the "three R's," a slogan whose minimal appeal soon became all too apparent. Far from being a unifying theme for his campaign, it seemed merely a mélange of standard ideas from the conservative catechism that failed to serve the main purpose of a message -- to provide justification for Dole's candidacy, to give voters a reason to make him their president.
Part of the problem was that Dole found it hard to indulge in the government bashing that was all the fashion among Republicans in the wake of their 1995 triumph. "I don't stand here and say the government is terrible," he told his audiences. "That's not true. Government has done a lot of good things," and to illustrate, he would mention how the GI Bill helped him get through college and law school.