Show Yourself, Mr. Dole

IF Senate majority leader Bob Dole were president, he'd be accused of running a Rose Garden campaign for the Republican nomination.

For the last year, the GOP candidates have been criss-crossing the country, speaking to Rotarians, women's clubs, and any other group that would listen. They've done radio talk shows, newspaper interviews, and local TV appearances. Even Steve Forbes, who's spent tens of millions of his own money on video contact, has not neglected to press the flesh.

All the candidates, that is, except Mr. Dole. The Kansan seems to have fallen into the trap of believing that political endorsements by state governors and his senatorial colleagues carry great weight with the public. Such endorsements are fine vehicles for fund-raising and organization-building. But the public has a mind of its own, and its mind right now is that it wants to see the candidates. In Delaware, voters rewarded Mr. Forbes for taking them seriously enough to show up. In Arizona, Dole's loss has been at least partly attributed to his inattention to the Grand Canyon State.

But it goes even deeper. Dole won't give interviews. He doesn't talk to the press except when he can't avoid it. He is notorious among network staffers for refusing offers of free TV, such as the morning news shows.

Dole says the main reason he is doing worse than expected is that Forbes and others have been pummeling him with attack ads. That's probably partly true. But a bigger problem is that the Dole campaign seems unable to decide what its message is, and the candidate is often nowhere to be seen. While he avoids the media, his opponents are masters at exploiting it.

Certainly Dole's Senate duties take away from campaign time. This week he reshuffled his staff and said he'll shift to positive ads. But he needs more contact with the public and the media to get across his accumulated wisdom and experience, his strongest selling points. Until he himself is in the thick of the battle, he'll continue to underperform, and the dangers to his candidacy will grow.

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