Elizabeth Dole, who grew up in North Carolina and went to Duke before spending her professional life in Washington, has come full circle.
In her race to succeed Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate, she has espoused her Salisbury, N.C., roots while also showcasing her impressive Washington resume.
Born in 1936 in Salisbury, Dole grew up in small-town North Carolina and attended the local high school there.
Afterward, Duke, then a regional institution more than a national one, became Dole's playground. There she served as president of the Woman's College Student Government, was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
A Trustee from 1974 to 1985, Dole has elicited a band of admirers at Duke today who praise her every move as she maneuvers through state politics.
"It is obvious that Dole is a natural leader because of her early leadership positions here at Duke," said sophomore Mary Ellison Baars, president and founder of Duke Students for Dole.
Perhaps even more indicative of her leadership was the fact that after she left Duke, she pursued a law degree at Harvard Law School, where the overwhelmingly male student body questioned why she was there.
Later, she upstaged them with a political career that would eclipse most of her male classmates, serving six presidents from Lyndon Johnson to George H.W. Bush.
Ted Arrington, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said Dole's Cabinet and other Washington experience may come in handy running for the Senate--especially since those experiences demonstrate Dole's competence with stereotypically "male" issues.
"Women are generally regarded as more trustworthy and caring, but fall down on economic, foreign policy and defense issues," he said. "Her Cabinet roles make this a non-problem."
Showing her Southern roots and strong Christian faith, however, she temporarily stepped down in 1996 to campaign alongside her husband, Sen. Bob Dole, in his failed presidential run.
Arrington added that her 27-year marriage to Dole will give her a more personal kind of credibility--who better to advise her than a former Senate majority leader? Unlike in 2000, when she
Arrington said that her lack of success in the presidential campaign is not an indicator of failure in the Senate campaign.
"The failed presidential campaign just added to her 'well-known-ness,'" he said.
It was a crushing and absolute defeat, however, for a campaign that began with as much promise as George W. Bush's.
Returning to North Carolina, however, Dole has sought to cultivate the image that she is still a small-town Southern belle at heart.
"This is my home, and my roots are very deep here," Dole said of Salisbury in a recent campaign advertisement. "There are other places where I've worked because my work took me to those places, but I've said throughout my life that this is my home."
Her opponent, Erskine Bowles, and other state Democrats have tried to paint Dole as an outsider and an opportunist without significant local ties. Regardless of her recent experience in the state, analysts say that attack has seemly fallen flat.
"She is an outsider, but who cares?" Arrington said. "She is running for the U.S. Senate-emphasis on the U.S."
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