Elizabeth Dole's Secret Weapon
So she won't be Madam President. But the support
she mobilized is a power her party ignores at its peril.
Standing to one side of the crowded room where Elizabeth Dole was announcing her withdrawal from the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, a woman brushed a tear from her face. "I said I wasn't going to do it," Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, national finance chair of the Elizabeth Dole for President Exploratory Committee, later recalled, "and there I was boo-hooing."
Dole may have come up short in the money sweepstakes, but if you think that will leave her empty-handed come the Republican National Convention this summer, think again. In fact, she's holding a very valuable card. Much of the $5 million she raised came from a brand-new source: high-powered businesswomen who had virtually ignored politics before, never mind funded a campaign. They included Judy Haberkorn and former Condé Nast Publications executive VP Catherine Viscardi Johnston, who was recruited for Dole's finance committee by McElveen-Hunter (whose Pace Communications is No. 154 in the Working Woman 500).
"We're still willing to follow her into battle, if an appropriate opportunity" arises, says McElveen-Hunter.
Will it? After Dole's brief farewell speech last fall, this reporter asked McElveen-Hunter what would become of that database of first-time fundraisers and and contributors.
"That's very valuable information, isn't it?" she said, her mouth forming a Mona Lisa smile. "I feel like we're in a play, and this is not really the final act."
Meanwhile, the Dole camp isn't taking any chances that a memory lapse might lead the Republican Party to overlook the former candidate. At press time, a full-page ad thanking her for "making history" was slated for a winter run in USA Today, paid for by "friends of Elizabeth Dole" and featuring photographs of each backer who raised $10,000 or more.
But there's more to Dole's clout than the monied donors.What she also has--in spades--is the ability to excite and motivate untold numbers of women.
"She's always been a spectacular campaigner for Republican candidates," says Candy Straight, president of the Republican political action committee WISH List. "The party will face a gender gap in 2000, so she could be a great asset."
Is she running a velvet campaign for the vice presidency? Dole won't say. But she seemed to be the only one who wasn't misty-eyed as she bade farewell to her White House run. Some of us, in fact, noticed a bit of a gleam.
NOTE: Bonnie McElveen-Hunter went on to become one of the "Pioneers"--people who raised at least $100,000--for the 2000 Bush for President campaign.