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Bob Dole campaigning again

When he walks through the door of the party room at the Pizza Ranch, I realize I'm glad to see him.

A girl can get pretty desperate sitting around a mall in an outpost of northern Iowa.

The Bobster has on that same powder-blue early-bird-special jacket he wore in his own presidential campaign in the summer of '96. And those gleaming tasseled loafers that mark him as a Gucci Gulch Washington lobbyist in a joint with a sign out front that reads: "Please remove soiled boots before entering."

The 76-year-old spouse in the running to be the first first man dishes about remodeling at the Watergate. "We did buy the apartment that Monica lived in," Bob Dole tells the handful of seniors with gray hair and teenagers with purple hair who have shown up to hear him. "We wanted to make our place a little bigger. In fact, the walls are being torn down today, I think." Pausing, he adds slyly: "We'll have tours there on Sundays."

The retired senator spent two days in Iowa last week stumping for his wife, trying to work his way out of the doghouse. He was banished there after his interview in May with the New York Times' Richard L. Berke, in which he was distinctly dour about Elizabeth Dole's prospects, and even suggested he might write a check to John McCain.

"I just told the truth _ I don't think that's against the law," he says defensively to an Iowa reporter who asks about it. "John McCain is a good friend of mine. But obviously I'm for Elizabeth. I've been urging her to do this for years."

To be fair, Dole was probably not belittling Elizabeth because he was jealous. He's just a saturnine guy who speaks his mind. He was even more dour during his own race four years ago, a campaign with no pulse and no rationale that was dubbed "Dead Man Walking" by the New Republic.

He's fuzzy on Liddy's 10-point agriculture policy, but recalls, "I was on the Ag Committee for 30 years." He gives the same impression campaigning for her that he did campaigning for himself: He'd rather be home watching C-Span.

He and his wife seem a bit confused on how to play the issue of a female president. On the one hand, Dole says, gender shouldn't matter; qualifications should. But on the other hand, he suggests that if she's elected, the "glass ceiling will be forgotten." And he envies all the press attention Hillary Clinton gets. "You've got a woman running for president and the press ignores her," he complains, "as opposed to a woman running for Senate."

Bob Dole and the bubbly George Bush had a great political rivalry. It was colored by Dole's class resentment, his assertion that people whose fathers wore overalls did not get the same privileges and resumes and endorsements in life.

But the old class rage has dissipated. Asked why the Doles always end up trailing the Bushes, he counters with good humor. "I don't know why we're always squaring off. In 1988, when Vice President Bush and I were running, the exchanges got pretty heated. Then I became the president of Iowa and he became the president of the United States. But then we became very good friends. He was a very good president, especially on foreign policy. I've got great admiration for the Bushes, for the Bush family."

He'd better watch it. A few more enthusiastic syllables about the Bushes and he'll be back in the doghouse. And what a waste of Viagra that would be.

+ Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist. +

New York Times News Service

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