Robert J. Dole, a former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, died on Sunday. He was 98.
Dole was on the ballot three times in New Jersey during a political career that spanned from his election to a seat as a congressman from Kansas in 1960 until his bid to unseat President Bill Clinton.
President Gerald R. Ford selected Dole as the GOP candidate for vice president in 1976. While Democrats Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale won the national election, Ford and Dole carried New Jersey by 65,035 votes, swinging New Jersey’s 17 electoral votes to the Republicans by a margin of two percentage points.
The GOP nominees won 11 of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
Ford and Dole won Bergen County by 56,593 votes (56%), Morris by 42,172 (61%), Ocean by 21,462 (59%), and Monmouth by 21,148 (54%). They also carried Somerset (57%), Union (51%), Passaic (51%), Sussex (60%), Hunterdon (59%), Cape May (53%), and Warren (51%).
Carter and Mondale won ten counties, including Essex by 40,523 (55%), Camden by 26,053 (56%), and Hudson by 23,605 (55%). They also carried Cumberland (58%), Mercer (53%), Atlantic (52%), Gloucester (51%), Salem (51%), Middlesex (51%) and Burlington (50%).
The Democrats captured the White House that year by a narrow 297-240 electoral college victory and a 50%-48% win of the popular vote. Carter won Ohio (25 electoral votes) by 11,116 (48.9%-48.7%) and Wisconsin (11 electoral votes) by 35,245 (49.5%-48.8%).
Mondale died in April at age 93.
Dole sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, but withdrew before the filing deadline for the New Jersey primary after poor showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and six other states.
In 1988, Dole mounted his second presidential bid in a crowded eight-candidate field.
His New Jersey campaign was co-chaired by Rep. Marge Roukema (R-Ridgewood) and his state director was John P. Sheridan, a former state Commissioner of Transportation under Gov. Thomas Kean. Dole supporters included Bergen County Executive William McDowell, Assembly Majority Leader Chuck Haytaian, New Jersey Turnpike Authority Chairman Joseph (Bo) Sullivan, Assemblymen Pat Schuber (R-Bogota) and John Rooney (R-Northvale), and Assemblywoman Elizabeth Randall (R-Westwood). Morris County Republicans Ron DeFilippis and Craig Heard were among the national finance co-chairmen.
Dole scored a stunning upset victory in the Iowa GOP Caucus, with Vice President George H.W. Bush finishing third. Bush came back to win New Hampshire by a 38%-28% margin, Bush won Nevada, followed by Dole wins in Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming, but Bush came back to win 16 of the 17 Super Tuesday primaries in March.
He left the race three weeks later, after losing the Illinois primary by a wide margin, and just before the filing deadline for the June New Jersey primary.
Dole was the early front-runner when he against sought he presidency in 1996.
Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who became a national GOP star after ousting incumbent Jim Florio in 1993, had initially sought to hold New Jersey Republicans back from endorsing anyone. Dole and assiduously courted her support, as did Forbes, her childhood friend from Bedminster. She had considered not take sides at all.
On December 11, 1995, Dole came to Edison to receive Whitman’s endorsement.
Most of the state’s Republican establishment rallied to support Dole, but there were some outliers: Rep. Bob Franks (R-Berkeley Heights), who represented part of Somerset County in Congress, endorsed Forbes. So did Dale Florio, the Somerset County GOP chairman. Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township) endorsed U.S. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas.
Dole won Iowa, was defeated in New Hampshire by conservative TV pundit Pat Buchanan, and the lost Delaware and Arizona to New Jerseyan Steve Forbes, a magazine publisher who was self-funding his race. But Dole came back to win 45 states to capture the GOP nomination.
This marked the first time Dole would be on the New Jersey primary ballot. The race was already over by the time New Jersey Republicans voted on June 4 and Dole captured 82% of the vote in New Jersey against Buchanan (11%) and former Ambassador Alan Keyes (7%).
New Jersey had been a politically competitive state in presidential elections, backing Franklin D. Roosevelt four times, Thomas Dewy against Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower twice. John F. Kennedy took the state’s 16 electoral votes by a narrow 22,091-vote margin (50-49%) in 1960. Lyndon Johnson won New Jersey in 1964 and the state went Republican in the next six elections.
But 1988 was the last time New Jersey was red in a presidential election. Bill Clinton flipped the state in 1992 by 70,341 votes, a 2 ½ point win over Bush.
When Dole ran against Clinton in 1996, New Jersey wasn’t even close. Clinton won by 549,251 votes, 54%-36%, with independent Ross Perot taking 8.5% of the vote.
Dole won just five counties: Hunterdon (51%-36%), Sussex (49%-36%), Morris (49%-41%), Somerset (46%-45%), and Warren (46%-39%). Clinton won Cape May by 492 votes, Ocean by 11,413, and Monmouth by 11,413. Bergen County went for Clinton by 49,921 votes.
Essex County, which had elected a Republican county executive just two years earlier, gave Clinton a 110,206-vote plurality over Dole. Clinton won Hudson with 69%, Camden with 61%, Mercer with 49%, Union with 57%, Middlesex and Passaic with 56%m Cumberland with 55%, Atlantic with 53%, Burlington and Gloucester with 52%, and Salem with 46%.,
A World War II hero who was seriously wounded during a German attack and initially left for dead on an Italian battlefield, Dole was first elected to office in 1950 when he was elected to the Kansas state legislature at age 27 when he ousted Democratic incumbent Elmo J. Mahoney by 773 votes, 49%-41%. He served two terms as the Russell County Attorney before winning the open House seat on retiring Rep. Wint Smith in 1960.
In his first House race, he defeated Keith Sebelius by 982 votes in a three-way GOP primary, 45%-42%. Sebelius, whose daughter-in-law, Kathleen, later served as the Democratic governor of Kansas and as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama cabinet, later followed Dole in the U.S. House of Representatives and served six terms. In the general election, Dole won 59% of the vote.
Following the retirement of Republican Frank Carlson, Dole was elected to the United States Senate in 1968. He defeated former one-term. Gov. William H. Avery in the Republican primary with 68% of the vote. Dole beat Democrat William Robinson, a Wichita lawyer and World War II veteran who had served as the Sedgewick County Democratic Chairman, with 60%.
President Richard Nixon named Dole as the Republican National Chairman in 1971 and he spent two years in that post.
When Dole sought a second term in the U.S. Senate in 1974, he faced voters still angry with Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Against Bill Roy, a two-term Democratic congressman and obstetrician, Dole was re-elected by a narrow 13,532-vote margin, 51%-49%,
After Republicans captured control of the U.S. Senate in 1980, Dole became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and in 1985, following the retirement of Howard Baker, was elected Senate Majority Leader. He was minority leader from 1987 to 1995, and majority leader again from 1995 to 1996.
Dole is survived by his wife, former U.S. Senator Elizabeth H. Dole of North Carolina, and his daughter, Robin.
(Editor’s note: New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein, then the Mayor of Livingston, served as vice chair of Dole’s New Jersey campaign in 1988.)