Many Americans complain that money is becoming more important than a message in U.S. politics. The debate over the issue is becoming increasingly heated with a general election a little more than a year away. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully looks at American politics, focusing on the popular Elizabeth Dole, who ended her campaign for the U.S. presidency. Dole says she withdrew because she simply could not afford to compete with other candidates.
Washington, 21 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the role of money raising in domestic politics and the enormous financial burdens it puts on candidates.
On Wednesday, Elizabeth Dole, one of the most prominent and popular women in American public life, ended her campaign for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. She says the reason for her withdrawal is money -- or the lack of it.
Dole is the wife of Bob Dole, the former Republican Party leader in the Senate, the upper house of the U.S. Congress. For her own part, Dole has served in the cabinet of former President Ronald Reagan and, more recently, was the president of the American Red Cross.
And when Bob Dole ran against President Bill Clinton in 1996, Elizabeth Dole -- nicknamed Liddy -- was seen as far more effective a campaigner than her husband.
Despite her credentials, however, Dole says she cannot afford to pursue her quest to be the first woman to hold the American presidency. She notes that two rivals for the Republican nomination -- wealthy publisher Steve Forbes and George W. Bush, governor of the state of Texas -- can spend far more money than she can hope to raise.
"These rivals would enjoy a 75- to 80-to-1 cash advantage. Perhaps I can handle 2-to-1, or even 10-to-1, but not 80-to-1. The bottom line remains money."
After Dole announced her withdrawal, Bush spoke warmly of the popular woman who would no longer be challenging him.
"Elizabeth Dole is a friend, she's a really good person. She is a trailblazer, she is an inspiration to a lot of women, she has made a mark on the political process."
U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, praised Dole for her effort in seeking the presidency, even though she had to withdraw before Americans could express their preferences in next year's preliminary elections, called "primaries."
"I think she's a very, very impressive person. She's had a lot of important public service in her career, and she was clearly qualified to seek the presidency. And I regret the fact that finances alone kept her from going through the first few primaries, when -- and getting to the stage when all those candidates have debates, and the voters can actually see them all in ways other than they see them in their ads."
Forbes has enormous wealth of his own. Bush, the son of former President George Bush, has inherited his father's broad fundraising network, and has so far raised $60 million -- more than a year before the election in November 2000.
Dole's withdrawal came in the midst of the growing public debate over what many say is money's dominance of American politics. The day before Dole ended her campaign, Senators from her own party -- for the fourth consecutive year -- succeeded in killing legislation that would have overhauled the laws regulating spending for political campaigns.
But not every American political observer believes the need for money was at the root of Dole's departure from the presidential race. Stephen Moore, the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington think-tank, says she simply did not inspire American voters, despite her great personal charm.
"The thing about a George W. Bush or a Ronald Reagan or a Bill Clinton is they do have a kind of commanding presence when they walk in a room. And so I'm not sure that people really felt that Liddy Dole had that kind of pizzazz and charisma that people want in their president."
Moore also stresses that, as he put it, "money is not just money," but represents actual support for a candidate. By the same logic, he says, Dole's lack of money indicates a lack of support.
Whatever the reason Dole ended her campaign, Moore believes she still has a good chance for further public service. He says she could be a vice president or a cabinet member if a Republican is elected to the White House.