Commentary: Elizabeth Dole should explore her options

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

By Mac Butner

For the Salisbury Post

North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Elizabeth Dole, has a decision to make soon. That decision is what course her political future should take. I know all the pundits (as well as the senator herself) have said she will run for re-election in 2008. However, I think she should consider a couple of other options.

Before we consider those options we need to clear the air on a couple of myths. The first being the myth that the GOP Senate campaign disaster of 2006 was Senator Dole’s “fault.” The mood of the 2006 campaign was just like the mood of the 1974 “Watergate” campaign. I was working for Congressman Earl Ruth in 1974 and everywhere I traveled, I encountered the same anti-Republican sentiment. Ronald Reagan himself, in all his conservative glory, could not have reversed the tide of 1974, nor could he have reversed the outcome of 2006.

If one blames Senator Dole for the 2006 Senate results, then she would have to be blamed for the U.S. House losses, the state legislative losses, the gubernatorial losses and, yes, even the loss of a Republican seat on the Rowan County Commission. How absurd!

As most of us know who have been involved with the political process for a while, timing is very critical. Senator Dole became chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at just the wrong time.

Another myth concerns her age. Yes, she is 70, but she is a very, very young 70. She has those great Hanford genes which provide youthful vigor and a long life. It is one thing when one is like Sen. John McCain, who looks much older than his age, and another when you’re Elizabeth Dole, who looks, acts and thinks far younger than her chronological years.

Now, for her options. The first is re-election to the Senate. My question is “why?”

Why be a part of a legislative body where you are now in the minority and the chances of being in the majority again in the foreseeable future are slim, indeed? Republicans may say the Democrats only have a 51-49 advantage, but the chances of the GOP recapturing the majority in 2008 and 2010 are slim. The number of senators up for re-election in those years favors the Democrats. In 2008, you have only 12 Democrat seats up for re-election and 21 GOP seats. In 2010 you have 15 Democrat seats and 19 GOP seats. A total of 40 Republican seats and only 27 Democrat seats. Clearly the GOP is at a significant disadvantage for taking back control of the Senate in the next few years.

The main reason Elizabeth Dole should not seek another Senate term is that it isn’t where her governmental gifts lie. Even though she has done an excellent job as a senator, with a 96 percent American Conservative Union rating, her talent is in executive leadership and not legislative wheeling/dealing. Elizabeth Dole excelled throughout her career in executive branch positions and as chief executive of the American Red Cross. The executive arena is where she is at home and where her strengths and abilities are fully utilized.

Which brings me to my second option for Senator Dole: Being the first woman governor of North Carolina. I believe that 2008 will be the “Year of the Woman” in politics. Democrat Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is the frontrunner for her party’s nomination for governor. In talking with various campaign operatives throughout the state, it is clear that should Elizabeth Dole enter the race, all bets are off. She is the one factor which would send other potential gubernatorial candidates scurrying. She is the one candidate who could assure a GOP victory against Perdue.

The third option is my personal choice: President Elizabeth Dole. Please don’t say “been there, done that” with respect to a Dole presidential campaign. That was 2000, when Elizabeth Dole had not held any major elective office. Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat presidential nominee in 2008, period. There is only one person that the GOP has that can stop her and that is Elizabeth Dole. Senator Dole has more executive branch experience, more experience working with the Congress and is more academically qualified then Senator Clinton to lead this nation. She is far more popular than Mrs. Clinton and has campaigned nationwide as a principal figure in no less than three presidential races (1976,1996 and 2000).

There is a serious candidate void in the GOP. Rudy Giuliani can’t win the nomination because he is too liberal. McCain can’t win because too many conservatives distrust him and he looks and acts old. Mitt Romney may win the nomination, but he may lack the national base to win it all.

I remember in 2000 all of the local and statewide enthusiasm for Elizabeth Dole for president. I said earlier that timing was critical in politics. The year 2000 was not the right time for a President Elizabeth Dole, but 2008 is. Now is the time for all of that Dole for President energy to be rekindled for 2008.

The GOP does not have another Ronald Reagan in the wings. The Republican Party has only one person who can win versus Hillary Clinton, and that is Elizabeth Dole. The choice is clear, Senator Dole can either complete her distinguished career and retire as a minority party senator or she can become the first woman president. I hope for all of us and the future of our nation that her destiny and her choice will be the latter.

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Mac Butner lives in Salisbury and is a longtime Republican activist at the local, state and national level.