Dole was born in Russell, Kansas, to Bina M. Talbott and Doran Ray Dole. His father ran a small creamery. During the Great Depression, which hit Kansas very hard, the Dole family moved into the basement of their home and rented out the rest of the house. Dole took many odd jobs around Russell as a boy; he would later work as a soda jerk in the local drug store. Dole graduated from Russell High School in the spring of 1941 and enrolled at the University of Kansas the following autumn. Dole, a star high school athlete in his native Russell, earned a coveted spot on the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team under legendary coach Phog Allen. While in college, he joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Dole's study of law at KU was interrupted by World War II. After the war, Dole returned to being a law student. He attended the University of Arizona from 1948-1951 and earned his degree from Washburn University in 1952.
World War II and recovery
In 1942 , Dole joined the United States Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps to fight in World War II. He became a second lieutenant in the Army's 10th Mountain Division.
In April of 1945 , while engaged in combat in the hills of northern Italy, he was hit by German machine gun fire in his upper right back. His right arm was also injured so badly that it was unrecognizable. He had to wait nine hours on the battlefield before being taken to the Fifteenth Evacuation Hospital. He began his recovery at a U.S. Army hospital in Michigan, where he met future fellow politician Daniel Inouye. His right arm was paralyzed; Dole often carries a pen in his right hand to signal that he cannot shake hands with that arm.
Dole was twice decorated for heroism, receiving two Purple Hearts for his injuries, and the Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" for valor for his attempt to assist a downed radio man.
Dole ran for office for the first time in 1950 and was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives, serving a two-year term. After graduating from law school at Washburn University in Topeka, Dole was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in his hometown of Russell in 1952.
Also in 1952 Dole became the County Attorney of Russell County, serving in that position for eight years. In 1960 , Dole was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Kansas' 6th Congressional District, located in central Kansas. In 1962, his district was merged with the 3rd District in western Kansas to form the 1st Congressional District, a huge 60-county district which soon became known as the "Big First." Dole was reelected that year and twice thereafter without serious difficulty.
In 1968 he was elected to the United States Senate, succeeding retiring Senator Frank Carlson. He was re-elected in 1974, 1980, 1986, and 1992 , before resigning on June 11, 1996 to focus on his Presidential campaign. He only faced one truly enthusiastic and well-financed challenge – in 1974 by Congressman Dr. Bill Roy. Much of Roy's popularity was in response to the fallout from Watergate. Dole would win re-election in 1974 by only a few thousand votes. While in the Senate he served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 until 1973 , the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee from 1975-1978, and the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee from 1979-1980.
When the Republicans took control of the Senate after the 1980 elections, Dole became chairman of the Finance Committee in 1981, serving until 1985 . From 1985, when Howard Baker of Tennessee retired, until his resignation from the Senate, Dole was the leader of the Senate Republicans, serving as Majority Leader from 1985 until 1987 and again from 1995 to 1996 . He served as Minority Leader from 1987 to 1995 . Following the advice of conservative William Kristol, Dole flatly rejected the health care plan of Bill Clinton, remarking, "There is no crisis in health care."
Dole had a moderate voting record and was widely considered to be one of the few Kansas Republicans who could bridge the gap between the moderate and conservative wings of the Kansas Republican Party. As a Congressman in the early '60s he supported the major civil rights bills, which appealed to moderates. When Johnson proposed the Great Society in 1964-65, Dole voted against some War on Poverty measures like public-housing subsidies and Medicare, thus appealing to conservatives. Dole's first speech in the Senate in 1969 was a plea for federal aid for the handicapped. Later, he joined liberal Senator George McGovern to lower eligibility requirements for federal food stamps, a liberal goal that was supported by Kansas farmers.
Dole's hawkishness on the Vietnam War and on crime issues, kept him in good standing with the right wing. When they heard Nixon might make Dole chairman of the Republican National Committee, half the Republican Senators protested, especially moderates who feared he would direct party assets to conservatives. They were wrong, as Dole in fact offered something to all Republican factions.
In 1976 , Dole ran unsuccessfully for Vice President on a ticket headed by President Gerald Ford. The liberal incumbent Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, had withdrawn from consideration the previous fall, and the more conservative Dole was chosen. He stated during the Vice Presidential debate, "I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans-enough to fill the city of Detroit."
He ran for the 1980 Republican Presidential nomination, eventually won by Ronald Reagan. He received only 597 votes in the New Hampshire primary and immediately withdrew.
Dole made a more serious bid in 1988 . He started out strong by solidly defeating then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in the Iowa caucus—Bush finished third, behind television evangelist Pat Robertson. However, Bush recovered in time to defeat Dole in the New Hampshire Primary. The New Hampshire contest between the two was particularly bitter although they differed little on the issues. After the returns had come in on the night of that primary, Dole appeared to lose his temper in a television interview, which prompted some members of the media to perceive him as angry about the loss. That slowed his momentum and he was not able to recover. Bush defeated him again in South Carolina and went on to the nomination and ultimately, the Presidency.
Dole was the early front runner for the GOP nomination in the 1996 presidential race. He was expected to win the nomination against underdog candidates such as the more conservative Senator Phil Gramm of Texas. However populist Pat Buchanan upset Dole in the early New Hampshire primary, with Dole finishing second and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander finishing third. Publisher Steve Forbes also ran and broadcast a stream of negative ads. At least eight candidates ran for the nomination.
Dole eventually won the nomination, becoming the oldest first-time presidential nominee at the age of 73 years, 1 month (Ronald Reagan was 73 years, 6 months in 1984, for his second presidential nomination). He however had been forced to spend more on the primary than he had planned and until the convention in San Diego faced federal limits on campaign spending. He hoped to use his long experience in Senate procedures to maximize publicity from his rare positioning as Senate Majority Leader against an incumbent President but was stymied by Senate Democrats. On May 16, 1996, he resigned his seat to focus on the campaign, saying he was either heading for "The White House or home".
The incumbent, Bill Clinton, had no serious primary opposition. Dole promised a 15% across-the-board reduction in income tax rates and made former Congressman and supply side hero Jack Kemp his running mate. Dole also found himself criticized from both the left and the right within the Republican Party over the convention platform as well as the additional challenge of Ross Perot's entry into the race.
Dole was defeated in the 1996 election. Clinton won in a 379-159 Electoral College landslide, but captured only 49.2% of the vote (against Dole's 40.7%) because of the independent candidacy of Ross Perot.
Dole has worked part-time for a Washington, D.C., law firm, and engaged in a career of writing, consulting, public speaking, and television appearances. This has included becoming a television commercial spokesman for such products as Visa, Viagra, Dunkin' Donuts and Pepsi-Cola, and as an occasional political commentator on the popular American interview program Larry King Live and has guested a number of times on Comedy Central's satirical news program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He was, for a short time, a commentator opposite Bill Clinton on CBS's 60 Minutes.
He guest-starred as himself on NBC's Brooke Shields sitcom Suddenly Susan in January 1997 (shortly after losing the presidential election). On the Larry King show he had a heated exchange with Democratic presidential primary candidate Wesley Clark in which he correctly predicted that Clark would lose the New Hampshire primary and other primaries.
The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, housed on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, was established to bring bipartisanship back to politics. The Institute, which opened in July 2003 to coincide with Dole's 80th birthday, has featured such notables as former President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Dole has written several books, including one on jokes told by the Presidents of the United States, in which he ranks the presidents according to their level of humor. President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in early 1997 for his service in the military and his political career. He received the American Patriot Award in 2004 for his lifelong dedication to America and his service in World War II.
In December 2004, Dole had a hip-replacement operation, which required him to receive blood thinners. One month after the surgery it was determined that he was bleeding inside his head. He spent 40 days at Walter Reed, and when he was released, his "good" arm, the left, was of limited use. He told a reporter that he needed help to handle the simplest of tasks, since both of his arms are injured. He undergoes physical therapy for his left shoulder once a week, but doctors have told him that he might not regain total use of his left arm.
Dole is special counsel at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Alston & Bird. On April 12, 2005, Dole released his biography One Soldier's Story: A Memoir , which talks of his World War II experiences and his battle to survive his war injuries. In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Dole and Donna Shalala co-chairs of a commission to investigate problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Dole married Phyllis Holden, an occupational therapist at a veterans hospital, in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1948. His daughter, Robin, was born in 1954. Dole and Holden divorced in 1972. Holden Remarried in 1973 and widowed in 1978. She then remarried for the third time in 1979. She now goes by Phyllis Dole-Macey.
Dole has been married to Senator Elizabeth Dole, née Hanford of North Carolina since 1975. Elizabeth ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000 and was elected to the United States Senate in 2002.
Parodies in popular culture
Dole has a habit of referring to himself in the third person. During the New Hampshire primaries in 1996, for example, he told supporters "You're going to see the real Bob Dole from now on." By April, a National Review columnist termed the habit "irritating". The habit has been much-parodied in popular culture: