OVERLAND PARK, KAN. — OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- On his first day without a government job in 44 years, Bob Dole confessed yesterday that he felt kind of empty -- and then set out to get back on the payroll.
He did it by leaving Washington and the Congress behind, kicking off an eight-city "Heartland" tour of the Midwest and South, in which he mixed jokes about his new status among the unemployed with attacks on President Clinton.
After starting in Ohio, a critical electoral battleground, Dole made a symbolic return to Kansas, then headed to country-and-western music hot spot Branson, Mo., for concerts at the Glen Campbell Good Time Theater and the Mel Tillis Theater.
In Kansas, Dole received a hero's welcome as more than 1,000 people waited in wilting heat to hear him thank them for their support over the years.
"I've never forgotten where I'm from," Dole said to thunderous cheers and applause. "I'm proud of where I'm from. I'm from the heartland."
Dole noted, however, that from now on he will have to win over people around the country as he has won over Kansans. "Until yesterday, my constituency was Kansas. From now on, my constituency is the whole of America."
He vowed to crisscross America between now and Election Day to tell "our story" -- a story that he suggested may be different from the one he told in Washington when he was the leader of Senate Republicans and bound to a legislative agenda that has lost favor with many Americans.
"It's not going to be the House agenda, or the Senate agenda, it's going to be MY agenda for the future," Dole told about 500 people at a luncheon in downtown Toledo, Ohio, though he offered no specifics.
He attacked Clinton as a liberal pretending to be a conservative just for the election year, and likened Clinton's promise of a tax cut to such promises as "the check's in the mail" and "I'll start my diet in the morning."
But Dole was more interested in the symbolic value of his first day out of office as he was in specific proposals.
"We're trying to get good pictures," he told reporters as his jet left Washington in the morning. "Don't worry very much about what I say."
Indeed, it was Dole's new role as "Citizen Dole" instead of "Senator Dole" that drew the most attention Wednesday, underscored when the former Senate majority leader changed the name on his chartered jet from "Leader's Ship" to "Citizen's Ship."
Dole, after all, has drawn a government paycheck for the past 44 years, starting with the Kansas Legislature in 1951, when Clinton was 4-years-old. He left Kansas for the House in 1961 and moved to the Senate in 1969.
Dole said he woke up yesterday in his Washington apartment and dialed the phone number of the Senate office he left the day before for the last time.
"It is sort of an empty feeling. There was no one there."
As he campaigned, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that Dole has broken the law by spending at least $343,751 more than permitted on his presidential campaign.
Don Fowler, the Democratic National Committee chairman, urged the FEC, which usually takes years to act on such complaints, to move quickly to require the Dole campaign to refund the money to the Treasury and to block Dole from campaigning until after the Republican National Convention in August.
"He [Dole] can make statements on his front porch each morning," Fowler said in Washington.
Dole denied the DNC's charge, and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour rushed to Dole's defens, denouncing Clinton and the Democrats.
"This is a transparent attempt by Bill Clinton and the Democrat Party to try to divert attention away from the bad news that is getting worse and worse about their own legal and ethical problems," Barbour said at a news conference.
Pub Date: 6/13/96