of a country that has ceased to care

US ELECTIONS: Weary old warrior ends last crusade
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The Independent Online
The old soldier's last campaign ended yesterday, where the first one began all of 45 years ago when he first became a representative in the Kansas state legislature. Bob Dole was back in Russell, casting his vote in a Presidential election he seemed destined to lose by a mile.

What probably were the final hours of Mr Dole's political career, spent mostly in the deep night of the American Midwest, have been surreal - a mixture of a campaign's obligatory optimism and a candidate's lacerating honesty as sheer weariness strips away his ability to pretend. "I've done what I can do - all I can do. Nothing I can say will change what will happen today."

For 96 hours before Russell, Mr Dole had whirled across the country, logging 10,534 miles that had taken him to 29 rallies in 20 states, with hardly a pit-stop. Sometimes his voice virtually gave out, in Houston his campaign plane Citizenship had a flat tyre, but still he kept going, driven by little more than pride and the desire to prove that at 73-years- young he could cope with a schedule that had reporters half his age wilting and buckling with exhaustion.

Earlier he had paid the obligatory stop 200 miles to the west in Independence, Missouri, home town of Harry Truman, patron saint of electoral victories snatched from seemingly certain defeat. It was 3 o'clock in the morning, but 2,500 people were on hand to listen.

"The tide is rolling all over the country," Mr Dole proclaimed, standing in front of the great man's statue outside the old courthouse and using words Truman used during his legendary surge to victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948. "I have seen it in other people's faces. The people are going to win the election."

If Mr Dole does so however, the miracle would eclipse even Truman's feat of 48 years ago - a surprise that would discredit the opinion polling industry for a century or more. In that year, "Give 'em hell" Harry turned around a deficit of 13 per cent in August, which had shrunk to 5 per cent in the final published poll, some three weeks before the election. This time Mr Clinton held a double digit lead right up to voting day.

And in his wry, self-mocking fashion, the candidate himself seemed to acknowledge his fate: "I don't believe in the polls, but I'll tell you about the good ones." But the tour, and the headlines it has generated, have already prompted wishful thinking in the Republican campaign: if only, if only. If only Mr Dole had done something like this earlier, when there was still time. In these last 24 hours the ordeal has been taking a visible toll, not just on Mr Dole, who has kept going on biscuits, water, throat spray and a herbal tea called Throat Coat, but on his wife Elizabeth.

Even so, and despite the candidate's croaking voice that cut his stump speech to a bare 10 minutes and his sometimes dispirited demeanour, the odyssey has acquired an elegiac tone. "This is the last crusade of a great warrior," Senator John McCain of Arizona told a rally at Des Moines, Iowa, shortly after midnight, as the candidate stood behind him, blinking back tears.

"He is one of a generation of Americans who went out and made the world safe for democracy, so that ourselves and our children could have far better lives ... he returned to a life of service, not only for the people of Kansas but the people of this country." In 1996, Mr Dole's generation may have been one of the factors which doomed him.

But as a politician's epitaph, there could be no finer.