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Dole Quits Senate To Campaign Full Time

[Bob Dole]

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 15) -- Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) electrified Washington today, resigning from the Senate to campaign full time for the White House (256K WAV sound).

"I announce that I will forego the privileges not only of the office of the majority leader but of the United States Senate itself, from which I resign effective on or before June 11th," a choked-up Dole told a Capitol Hill news conference, flanked by Republican lawmakers and a few Democrats. "And I will then stand before you without office or authority, a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man."

Though most of official Washington was caught off guard, CNN's Candy Crowley reports Dole made the decision weeks ago. He, like many in the GOP, was convinced he had to leave Senate politics behind to wage his campaign outside Washington.

[Quote from Dole]

Dole spoke with uncharacteristic emotion and grace (192K AIFF or WAV sound). "You do not lay claim to the office you hold, it lays claim to you," he said wistfully. "Your obligation is to bring to it the gifts you can of labor and honesty and then to depart with grace. And my time to leave this office has come, and I will seek the presidency with nothing to fall back on but the judgment of the people, and nowhere to go but the White House or home."

Acknowledging the difficult months ahead as he tries to reverse President Bill Clinton's double-digit lead in many public opinion polls, Dole reflected on past challenges. "Little has come to me except in the hard way," he said. "I will do it the hard way once again. (352K WAV sound)."

[Quote from McCurry]

The White House response was swift, if understated. Chief spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters Dole telephoned Clinton at 12:45 p.m., and the two men spoke for about five minutes. McCurry said the president praised Dole's lengthy career and commented on how tough the decision must have been for Dole who, by all accounts, loves being Senate majority leader (256K WAV sound).

Republicans, who learned of Dole's intentions early today, were quick to laud the decision. "This is exactly the right thing to do," House Speaker Newt Gingrich told reporters after the announcement. Praising the boldness of the strategy, Gingrich said it was the most effective speech he had heard Dole give (160K AIFF or WAV sound). Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said Dole's decision was "absolutely" right.

Possible successors to Dole as majority leader include Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), all of whom have leadership posts. Those mentioned as possible candidates to assume Dole's Senate seat include Kansas Rep. Sam Brownback.

Though inextricably linked to politics, Dole's announcement had tremendous personal elements. The Kansan, 72, has spent the last 27 years in the Senate, many of those in leadership positions. Paying tribute to their colleague, Republican Senators planned to rally around Dole this afternoon at a private gathering.

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