Bob Dole, a former Republican presidential nominee and U.S. senator from Kansas, has died at the age of 98, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced Sunday.
“It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years,” said the organization that’s named after his wife, who served as secretary of labor under President George H.W. Bush.
— Elizabeth Dole Foundation (@DoleFoundation) December 5, 2021
Dole was a prominent statesman, decorated war veteran and, until Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) surpassed him in June 2018, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican leader. Dole challenged incumbent Bill Clinton for the presidency in 1996, when he was the senior senator from Kansas.
Before that, Dole served, at various times, as Senate majority leader, Senate minority leader, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and a member of the House of Representatives. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988, and was President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976.
President Joe Biden, who served with Dole in the Senate for more than two decades, remembered the late senator on Sunday as a friend and “an American statesman like few in our history.” Biden said that even with their political differences, he could always look to Dole for “trusted guidance, or a humorous line” and that Dole “never hesitated to work with me or other Democrats when it mattered most.”
“Bob was a man to be admired by Americans. He had an unerring sense of integrity and honor. May God bless him, and may our nation draw upon his legacy of decency, dignity, good humor, and patriotism for all time,” Biden said in a statement. The White House later ordered that all flags be flown at half-staff on public buildings, grounds, military posts and naval stations until sunset on Thursday in Dole’s honor.
Dole was born on July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kansas, and grew up in a working-class household that struggled financially. One year, to make ends meet during the Great Depression, his family rented out his home’s first floor and lived in the basement.
In school, he succeeded in both sports and academics, and attended the University of Kansas. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he left his studies to serve as a combat infantry officer in the Army. In northern Italy, he sustained serious injuries from German machine-gun fire near Castel d’Aiano, which left him with permanent limited mobility in his right arm. He received two Purple Hearts for his injuries and the Bronze Star for valor.
In 1950, after recovering from his injuries and obtaining undergraduate and law degrees from Washburn University, Dole ran for the Kansas state House of Representatives. He served a two-year term, then became a county attorney. Dole successfully ran for the U.S. House in 1960 and then the Senate in 1969.
He spent more than 11 years as Senate majority leader, the longest-serving Republican in the post until McConnell’s tenure passed his.
In Congress, Dole managed to appeal to both political moderates and conservatives. He pleased the former by partnering with then-Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) to lower eligibility requirements for food stamps. He also supported civil rights legislation and federal aid for the disabled. Conservatives, meanwhile, appreciated his hawkish positions on foreign policy and crime, as well as his votes against public housing subsidies and Medicare.
In 1989, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Presidential Citizens Medal for his work as a public servant. In the ceremony, Reagan celebrated him as “a friend to veterans, farmers and Americans from every walk of life.”
When he secured the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 at the age of 73, Dole became the oldest first-time presidential nominee in U.S. history. Political observers have hypothesized that Dole was hurt by the Democratic strategy of tying him to the unpopular speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), whom many blamed for the back-to-back government shutdowns in late 1995.
In 1997, Clinton honored Dole, his former rival, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Son of the soil, citizen, soldier and legislator, Bob Dole understands the American people, their struggles, their triumphs and their dreams,” Clinton said. “Our country is better for his courage, his determination and his willingness to go the long course to lead America.”
After leaving Congress, Dole worked at a law firm and appeared in commercials for Viagra, Visa, Dunkin’ Donuts and Pepsi. He founded the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas for the study of civic participation and bipartisan solutions to national problems.
He also worked to raise awareness and funds for world hunger, veterans and disability issues during his post-congressional career, though he watched one of those causes suffer a defeat at the hands of his fellow Republicans when the Senate failed to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012.
In 2014, Dole completed a tour of all of Kansas’ 105 counties and campaigned on behalf of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
In January of 2018, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his service to the nation as a soldier, legislator and statesman. McConnell praised him during the ceremony as “the true measure of servant leadership.”
“Bob has built an extraordinary life on the basis of ordinary American values,” McConnell said. “As a legislator, he showed that principles and pragmatism are not opposites but complements. As a leader, he prized results over rhetoric. And above all ― from Castel d’Aiano to Percy Jones Army Hospital to his favorite Senate balcony, facing the Mall ― this soldier, statesman and American hero has never stopped fighting for vulnerable people who have less power and less strength than he does.”
In a Washington Post opinion piece in 2012, Dole reflected on his life and described how he had been able to continue working on behalf of others long after leaving electoral politics.
“Sure, losing an election hurts, but I’ve experienced worse,” he wrote. “And at an age when every day is precious, brooding over what might have been is self-defeating.”
In recent years, Dole had expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of the Republican Party, saying in 2013 that the GOP should be “closed for repairs” and that it needed to learn how to cooperate with Democrats. His record as a moderate earned criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who in March 2014 cited Dole as an example of a Republican presidential candidate who lost because he didn’t stand for GOP principles.
In the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Dole was a supporter of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose late father, George H.W. Bush, was his onetime political rival. Dole eventually got behind Donald Trump after his second GOP candidate of choice, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, also dropped out of the race.
“We’ve got to hope he’ll be a good president,” he told ABC News in 2016 of then-candidate Trump. “Trump has to start acting like a presidential candidate and tone down the rhetoric and don’t insult anybody.”
Dole continued to voice support for Trump even after Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden in the presidential election, which Dole said he believes Biden won fairly, though perhaps narrowly.
“He lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did,” he told USA Today in July. “I’m a Trumper,” he was quoted as saying, adding at another point: “I’m sort of Trumped out, though.”
Dole called Biden “a great, kind, upstanding, decent person.” He said Biden visited him with his grandchildren in February following news of his cancer diagnosis.
Dole is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Dole, a former North Carolina senator and secretary of labor and transportation, and his daughter, Robin Dole.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.