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Physician and former congressman Bill Roy dies at 88

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, May 26, 2014, at 9:51 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 27, 2014, at 6:26 a.m.

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Former Kansas Congressman Bill Roy has died.

The Democrat from Topeka who served two terms in the U.S. House in the early 1970s was 88. He had been ill for several months.

Roy also wrote a weekly newspaper column for the Topeka Capital-Journal. But he’ll be remembered most for his narrow loss in the 1974 U.S. Senate race against Republican Bob Dole.

Dole won that race by a scant 13,532 votes out of 794,434 cast. A Dole defeat would have re-routed, and possibly ended, one of the storied political careers in Kansas history.

Dole, who at 90 is in the midst of a series of tours of his old home state, was picked for the vice presidency just two years later by President Gerald Ford. That selection sparked Dole to run three times for the White House himself in 1980, 1988 and 1996.

The nomination for vice president, which came at the 1976 GOP convention in Kansas City, almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if Roy had pulled out the race.

The 1974 election, coming just weeks after President Richard Nixon had resigned the presidency over Watergate, was an especially difficult one for Republicans nationwide. Dole was vulnerable because of his stint as chair of the Republican National Committee from 1971-1973.

Roy, a doctor, struggled to be as aggressive as he needed to be in that race. Afterward, he said, “Bob Dole wanted it more than I did.”

Still, the race was thought to be close until the final weekend when Right-to Life members placed 50,000 fliers on car windshields. Those fliers contained graphic pictures of dead fetuses along with denunciations of Roy, who thought the procedure was warranted under some circumstances.

The fliers also urged voters to back Dole, who insisted he had nothing to do with the lit drop.

Roy said after the votes were counted that the abortion issue beat him.

Dole said the race gave him a jolt that brought him back to earth.

He said something else, too.

“I’ve told Bill Roy to his face that he made me a better senator.”

Roy ran for Senate against in 1978 against Republican Nancy Kassebaum, but lost that bid, too.

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