It is 2:53 a.m. Saturday and, despite the lack of sleep, Bob Dole is looking as fresh as the proverbial daisy.
The Republican presidential nominee, in a starched white shirt and red tie, has strolled to the rear of his campaign jet to offer his traveling press corps a deal: "I'll get three good stories from each of you, and we'll call this thing off."
This thing is the 73-year-old Dole's daring _ some would say foolhardy _ attempt to pull off the presidential upset of the century by literally outlasting his equally energetic opponent. He aims to campaign 96 straight hours, with nothing but naps, snacks and applause to sustain him.
Surrounded by disheveled, groggy staff members and reporters young enough to be his children or even grandchildren, Dole is alert, smiling and promising to press on across the country.
"If you don't go to bed, you don't worry about getting up early," he told one group of early risers.
It is a bizarre, macho test of endurance, as if suggesting to voters: Send the last man standing to the Oval Office. No wonder he plans one final stop at the birthplace of the man who staged the last great campaign comeback in 1948.
"We're going to go back and take a last look at Harry Truman's statue," said Dole, who has taken to reading portions of a Truman biography while flying around the country.
As his increasingly weary entourage lurched from diner to school gym, Dole meandered through his standard repertoire of Clinton cracks, Medicare promises and puzzling allusions to "foreign aid coming to America."
"We have not had a good example in this White House the last 45 or 46 months," he said. "We've had literally a scandal a week in this administration the past several weeks. I think Americans are starting to say, "What's going on there? What's going on in this White House _ every week, every week, every week, every week.'
In a 35-degree airplane hangar in Indianapolis, Dole ridiculed Clinton for raising taxes. "Then he says he's not a liberal. Come on!"
At another chilly hangar, in Omaha, he spoke of Craig Livingstone, the former Georgetown bouncer blamed for pulling 900 confidential FBI files.
"He has a beer and he looks through these FBI files, and he has another beer and looks at more files," he said, laughing. He also warned that some of the same administration aides that tried to revamp health care are still around. "A few of them are locked up," he said.
It is impossible to tell whether Dole finally has sparked the excitement his bid has so desperately lacked or if people simply are coming to witness a spectacle.
"When the cameras and the lights come on, people come out," said Scott Sherman, a 28-year-old West Bloomfield man who followed Dole from East Lansing to Brighton, outside Detroit. "It's like a car wreck."
The twisting journey, complete with visits by former presidents and retired general Colin Powell, carried Dole to 12 campaign stops in six states in the first 24 hours. By this morning, he will have touched down in six more states with a full day of California campaigning ahead of him.
"I can't remember when we started, but I can remember where we've been," he said at a 7 a.m. breakfast at the Lagoon Restaurant and Nite Club on Philadelphia's Delaware River.
Each state he hits is a virtual must-win and even in his presence, many local Republicans acknowledge the marathon is more a farewell tour than a victory lap.
"We have a 1-in-3 chance," GOP Sen. Rick Santorum said, handicapping Dole's prospects in Pennsylvania.
Day 2: "Offering choices'
At the 24-hour mark _ just one-fourth of the way toward his goal _ Dole turned more of the speaking chores over to his wife, Elizabeth, who gave an unprecedented address on values.
"An election is a chance to take stock of ourselves and make important choices with open eyes about what matters most and what works," she said in the gymnasium of Thomas More College near Covington, Ky. "My husband is offering the country these choices.
"We must ask ourselves if our preoccupation with tolerance has made our traditional hierarchy of values obsolete, if in pursuing life's options, we have left behind the fundamentals."
As aides have feared, her well-rehearsed precise address was a sharp contrast to the stream-of-consciousness act Dole offers.
The toll was most evident late Friday as Dole rode a bus across Michigan, darting out into the light snowfall to make his case.
At the crossroads of Route 50 and 196 near Lowell, Mich., he climbed into Skip Reiffer's white semitrailer truck for the perfect campaign photo op.
"Hey fellas, this is Marathon Man, Marathon Man," he said into a CB radio.
But there was no reply so Dole shrugged and simply said: "Nobody's there."
As his plane flew toward Omaha on Saturday night, Dole said the 96-hour trek was his idea.
"I couldn't think of anything else," he told reporters. "It's my last option."
The Dole election marathon
Starts Friday in Columbus, Ohio at 9:30 a.m.
Bus trip begins in Grand Rapids at 5:30 p.m., includes stops in Portland, Lansing, Fowlerville, Brighton and Farmington, ending in Detroit at 1 a.m.
Saturday: Begins in Newark at 4:30 a.m.
to Indianapolis and Covington, Indiana
to St. Louis, Missouri at 3 p.m.
to Omaha, Nebraska
to Grand Junction, Colorado at 11:30 p.m.
Today: Begins in Las Vegas at 2 a.m.
to San Diego at 11 a.m.
to Loma Linda at 3 p.m.
to East San Gabriel Valley at 5:30 p.m.
to Bakersfield at 8:30 p.m.
to Sacramento at 11:30 p.m.
Monday: Begins in Phoenix at 4:30 a.m.
to Alamorgordo, New Mexico at 8 a.m.
to Houston at 1 p.m.
to Lafayette, Louisiana at 5 p.m.
to Knoxville, Tennessee at 9 p.m.
to Des Moines at 11:45 p.m.
Election day: Begins in Independence, Missouri at 3 a.m.
Ends Tuesday at home in Russel, Kansas.