Down and in: Life after politics for new US cult hero

He may have been trounced in the Presidential election. But at the crusty old age of 73, Bob Dole is proving there is life after politics: first as a glowingly reviewed performer on the late- night talkshows - and now as the first major party White House candidate to star in a commercial advertisement.

"Not Doing Anything?" asks the caption on the Air France advertisement in the New York Times, Washington Post and other papers yesterday, touting a $299 (pounds 179) weekend round- trip to Paris. And who is the figure below, his arm extended in a beaming "Come Fly With Me"? None other than the erstwhile Republican candidate, who by his own admission is doing exceedingly little at the moment.

Of course, had things turned out otherwise, Mr Dole might have been savouring a trip to Paris next year aboard Air Force One (running costs some $50,000 per hour). But Air France it must be. As a tiny line of print makes clear, he is donating his $3,000 fee to Sarah's Circle, a Washington community centre for the elderly.

Though no US presidential contender has featured in a commercial campaign, dozens of lesser politicos have - among them Dan Quayle, once vice president, who pushed Wavy-Lay potato chips in 1994, and Mario Cuomo, who sung the praises of Doritos corn chips after he had lost the New York Governorship that same year.

But Mr Dole is carving a special niche, and perhaps achieving a place in the national affection that he never achieved in his 35-year Congressional career.

Within days of his 5 November defeat, Mr Dole was on the talk shows displaying the throw-away humour, sometimes slashing, sometimes self-deprecating, that - if he had unveiled it more during the campaign - might have made the outcome much closer. What about the "300lb Clinton?", he was asked by David Letterman on CBS.

"I never tried to lift him, I tried to beat him," Mr Dole retorted. Yes, he confessed at another point, he was up and ready to go, "but," he added, "there's no place to go."

A few days later he was briefly guest co-host on Saturday Night Live, mocking his own habit of referring to himself in the third person.

"This is Bob Dole, and Bob Dole thinks..." And so on, and so on, to gales of laughter. In fact the signs are emerging of a Bob Dole cult, probably shortlived, but emblematic of a country in which media is message; and politics, showbusiness and advertising campaigns merge into a single indistinguishable entity.

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