The unbuttoned Bob Dole hit the campaign trail Thursday.
The Republican presidential candidate made a quick foray into the Midwest with a new set of clothes, a series of familiar attack lines aimed at his rival President Clinton and a pledge to “change America for the better.”
At a rally in a hotel ballroom in downtown Chicago, Dole asked voters to help him reverse “the dangerous road of weakness and stagnation” Clinton is following.
But it was his appearance more than his rhetoric that was designed to suggest that this marked a symbolic restarting of his struggling presidential campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole arrived at Washington’s National Airport Thursday morning wearing his traditional dark suit and tie. But when he alighted from his plane at Chicago’s Midway Airport a few hours later, he had been transformed from Senate insider to Bob Dole, casual Midwesterner.
Dressed in khaki slacks, a white shirt open at the neck and a blue-gray sport coat, he bounced down the airplane stairs to startled looks from Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and the large contingent of journalists who had joined the campaign for the day.
By the time the presidential entourage reached downtown, Edgar had shed his coat and tie in deference to the new look of the Dole campaign. And the man who two months ago expressed relief that he was leaving the campaign trail to “get back to work” in the Senate, greeted the cheering audience by saying, “Well, it’s good to be out of Washington, D.C.”
The trip to Illinois came less than 24 hours after Dole had stunned his friends and rivals by announcing he would resign from the Senate seat he has held for 27 years to devote himself full time to the campaign for the White House. Dole said he will resign by June 11, and although he will receive an annual pension of more than $100,000, he declared he is leaving behind “all the trappings of power.”
“It was very difficult yesterday to say, in effect, farewell to the Senate,” Dole told the midday rally, his voice again choking with emotion. “But in my view, I had a commitment to the American people - to you. I am now the Republican nominee - not from the state of Kansas, not from the Senate, but in America.”
Dole’s speech, read for the second day in a row with the aid of a TelePrompTer, mixed the language of Wednesday’s resignation statement with the new stump speech he unveiled a few weeks ago, but it did not include new lines or fresh ideas. In Thursday’s case, the message was the messenger himself.