Bob Dole, age 90 and sometimes ailing, says he cannot think of a single Democrat he’d vote for in this year’s midterm elections.
Or in 2016, when Americans choose the next president.
“But my main concern about those elections is that, well, I just hope I’m still around to vote then.
“If not ... I plan to vote absentee,” the former senator from Kansas says.
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When he visits nine cities in nine counties of his home state of Kansas starting Monday in Olathe, we’ll not get to see much of the Dole wit.
Not in speeches, anyway.
None is planned.
His voice sounds a little tired on the telephone. Dole will turn 91 in July. He’s got those 70-year-old World War II wounds that pain him every day, rendering his right arm useless and his left arm numb.
But the wit stings.
This is the same guy, after all, who years ago stood cheerfully before a bunch of sulking rural Kansas voters upset over the farm bill and who were wearing “Dump Dole” caps.
“I’m gonna count you guys as undecided,” he told them.
Voting absentee from the afterlife has never been done before, he said with a laugh.
“I have no idea how they get the ballots back from up there.
“But I will check it out. And send it back special delivery.”
He hopes Democrats come to see him on his nine-county tour next week.
“I don’t want this to be a Republican thing,” he said. “When I served in the Senate, I tried to serve everybody. So I hope to see everybody. I’m not asking for money or asking for votes.
“I just want to shake hands, share a few stories. Answer any questions. I want to thank all the people who supported me for 30 years. And maybe eat an oatmeal or a chocolate chip cookie at every stop. But, boy, if I eat one at every stop, I might gain 10 pounds.”
He still wants to talk politics, though.
“My trouble is that I have a 45-year-old mind trapped in a 90-year-old body.
“All that does, though, is remind me that there are other people with disabilities worse off than me.”
When asked what he does for fun, Dole had to think for a few moments.
He and wife Elizabeth Dole, also a former senator, like to go to dinner sometimes. “That’s about it,” he said.
When he talks politics, his voice picks up speed.
“Obamacare on the roll-out was a disaster,” he said of the Affordable Care Act and the initial online health care enrollment. “They say they got 7 million signed up. Well, I don’t believe them, that they have 7 million. It was such a mess, I don’t believe what they say anymore.” Even if they have 7 million, that still leaves millions without health insurance, he said. (About 42 million are without health insurance this year, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report.)
We deserved better, he said.
“The House passes a lot of good bills, but they die in the Senate. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats – that’s rarely mentioned in the TV media, which likes to always say it’s the Republicans blocking legislation.”
“They ought to have their own plan, but they don’t. They need to get together and coordinate, but they don’t.”
Presidential hopefuls for 2016 so far? Can anyone run against Hillary Clinton, if she runs?
“A number of the younger members, first-termers like Rand Paul, (Marco) Rubio and that extreme-right-wing guy – Ted Cruz? All running for president now.
“I don’t think they’ve got enough experience yet.”
‘I said no’
Partisan fighting does serve a purpose, he said.
When he led Senate Republicans, he fought Democrats.
“Your job, as the leader, is to carry the flag for the party. And if you don’t do that, somebody else will carry the flag when you lose, and a Democrat will carry the flag when the Democrats take over.”
But Republicans need to quit fighting so much, he said. “The conservative Republicans need to get together with the others and form a plan.”
In 1995, Dole led one of the big congressional efforts of that time, aiming at a balanced budget amendment. Many politicians still regard a balanced budget amendment as a kind of holy grail of congressional politics.
They almost pulled it off.
“I had a really good group of Republicans,” Dole said. “They stuck with me and didn’t go off in different directions.
“But we had one Republican defection. It failed by one vote. Which meant the bill died. Which meant that I lost.”
The Republican defector: Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon.
Dole was mad at Hatfield.
“But they came to me, a couple other Republicans, and said he should be banned from the Republican Party,” Dole said. “I said no.
“Next week he might vote with me. And I might need his vote.”