HANOVER, N.H. -- The Big Band era met the MTV generation yesterday as Republican presidential contender Bob Dole gamely climbed aboard the rock video network's customized bus for a rolling interview.
The culture clash may have been as great as the contrast between the candidate's dark, conservative business suit and the bus's gaudy, leopard-skin patterned couch.
But Mr. Dole, whose cable TV tastes run from CNN to C-SPAN, sounded upbeat after the encounter. Asked by a reporter, as he was leaving the bus, if he had connected with the network's audience of 18-to-24-year-olds, he replied, "Sure did. Hit a home run."
Whether younger viewers agree (the taped interview airs tomorrow), Mr. Dole's willingness to take part underscores MTV's emergence as a political force.
Four years ago, when MTV first injected politics into its entertainment mix, former President George Bush resisted an appearance for months, explaining, "I'm not going to be a teeny-bopper at 68."
Bill Clinton, trying to make the most of his babyboom generation credentials, submitted to a 90-minute MTV session, which included a famous interrogatory about his taste in underwear. The Clinton-Gore ticket went on to win the largest share of the under-25 vote, though younger voters remain the most apathetic portion of the electorate.
Yesterday, Mr. Dole became the first 1996 hopeful to be interviewed by MTV, as the network kicked off its "Choose or Lose" voter registration and political awareness campaign. Among the innovations this year: on-line chat sessions with the candidates and a 45-foot-long bus covered with more than 100 political quotations (ranging from Thomas Jefferson to rapper Ice Cube).
For the better part of an hour, Mr. Dole answered questions from MTV's Tabitha Soren, on board the bus while it inched along a narrow, winding New Hampshire road.
There were no boxers-or-briefs or did-you-inhale queries. Instead, the interview was much like something you'd expect from David Frost, as one bus passenger put it later.
Topic One, unsurprisingly, was the age issue. Mr. Dole, who turns 73 this summer, would be the oldest person ever to become president, beating Ronald Reagan's record by more than three years.
"It's not the age of the man, it's the man for the age," said Mr. Dole, contending that he had not found his age to be a concern among voters. "I am in good health."
Mr. Dole did not pretend to be an MTV fan, though he said he has watched it. "I must say I don't make a habit of it," he added. "I'm sort of a news hound."
He defended his highly publicized attack last summer against gangsta rap and excessive sex and violence in movies and television, which has become a centerpiece of the Dole campaign. It is a part of his stump speech and is a prominent segment of the 13-minute biographical video shown to audiences at Dole campaign events (though the video was stopped before that segment when he appeared at an MTV rally yesterday on the Dartmouth College campus).
On the bus, Mr. Dole said he has no interest in becoming a censor or preventing grown-ups from viewing and listening to whatever they want. "If you're an adult, that's your right," he said.
His concern, he said, was over the harmful effects of a steady diet of sex and violence, especially on children. But, he added, "you cannot insulate young people. You've got to let them out to take their risks."
Saying he is "not a film critic," Mr. Dole also confessed surprise at the content of a film he had pointedly excluded from his Hollywood critique -- "True Lies." When he finally got to see it, "it was pretty bad," he said, explaining that he had let others choose the movies he singled out for criticism last year.
With New Hampshire's leadoff primary less than a month away, the Dole campaign is stepping up its appeals to younger voters here. "It's a big audience that gets ignored by a lot of Republican candidates," according to Dave Carney, the top Dole organizer in the state.
Several hundred students, lured by the presence of MTV, gave Mr. Dole a polite reception at an outdoor rally on the icy Dartmouth College campus. Random interviews revealed few potential Dole voters, though several students praised him for making the effort.
The crowd was swelled by college-age Dole volunteers who had been bused into the state from as far away as Washington, D.C., to help distribute campaign literature around the state.
Rob Rogers, a 20-year-old Dole supporter, disagrees with some of the senator's hard-line views on social issues. But he said age wasn't a concern for him.
"I look up to my elders," the Dartmouth student said. "I think a 72-year-old has been through a lot more than a 20-year-old."
At the Alpha Delta fraternity house, Mr. Dole told students, "I remember being young once." He recalled how he had paid $12.50 a month for room and board at the University of Kansas, more than a half-century ago.
"I know a lot about life, and I hope I know enough about your generation," he said. "This is a race for the future."
As he prepared to depart on the MTV bus, loudspeakers beat out a thumping tune into the subfreezing air, James Brown's hit from the 1980s, "Living in America."
"I think the Dole people chose the music," an MTV staffer confided. "I would have picked something more contemporary."