WASHINGTON -- With two months to go in the presidential race, Bob Dole is still searching for a way to connect with voters.
Yesterday, Dole installed his third advertising team of the election season, and last night he introduced himself to the nation for at least the fourth time this year in an unusually long (5-minute) new ad. Both steps suggested that Dole fears the public still doesn't know enough about him, particularly the story of his humble small-town origins and his struggle to overcome his war injuries.
"I'm not looking for the glory of the office," Dole says in the commercial scheduled to air last night on CBS-TV. "I'm not trying to fill out my resume. I want to be a bridge from my generation to younger generations so people know that I'm real and genuine."
The Dole campaign characterized the staff shake-up as a repositioning for the final crucial weeks of the contest. But other Republicans, recalling Dole's history of firing top aides when his campaigns turn sour, said the actions reflected a struggling campaign.
Nearly all agree that the Republican challenger faces an enormous challenge in trying to unseat an incumbent who is bolstered by a united Democratic Party and a relatively prosperous economy. This week's Iraq crisis, showcasing President Clinton's role as commander in chief, has made it even harder for Dole to get his message through.
"Incumbency is a very powerful force," said Sheila Tate, who served as campaign press secretary to President George Bush. "Bob Dole has to get across to voters all the reasons to make a change. We [Republicans] have our work cut out for us over the next two months."
But she added: "Never underestimate Bill Clinton's ability to implode."
So far, it is the Dole campaign that seems to be feeling the strain of a wide deficit in the polls, unchanged despite the strong showing Republicans made with their convention and Dole's selection of the popular Jack Kemp as his vice presidential running mate. The latest polls put Dole 15 to 20 percentage points behind Clinton -- roughly the same as at the beginning of the summer. At that time, Dole said he would worry if he saw those same numbers in September.
In an effort to strengthen his position, Dole has brought in three new media consultants -- Alex Castellanos, Greg Stevens and Chris Mottola -- and forced out two veterans, Don Sipple and Mike Murphy.
Sipple and Murphy, who produced one of two Dole ads that began airing in 17 states this week, balked at a proposal to put them more tightly under the control of Dole's campaign manager, Scott Reed, said Nelson Warfield, Dole's press secretary.
But others close to Dole said the candidate was uncomfortable with the chemistry among his top aides. Dole made a similar staff change in February, after he lost the New Hampshire primary. Eight years earlier, when he lost the New Hampshire primary, the Dole campaign abandoned two aides on an airport tarmac.
"At least we don't fire our guys in the middle of the night, like Clinton did with Dick Morris," said Tom Korologos, a lobbyist and Dole confidant. He was referring to the Clinton strategist who quit last week, after a tabloid newspaper reported details of his affair with a call girl.
The personnel shifts in the Dole camp would not matter if the Republican candidate's prospects were brighter, said Allan Lichtman, a political history professor at American University.
"Underdogs are always looking for the new adviser or the change in strategy that is going to make a difference," Lichtman said. "But in Dole's case, there's nothing he can do. He needs some stunning external event to change things."
Dole attributes his deficit in the polls partly to the fact that his campaign was all but bankrupt after the primaries and could not afford to run ads while Clinton was blanketing the airwaves.
But Dole's nomination qualified him for $74 million in public and Republican Party money, most of which he plans to spend on TV ads.
Dole has aired four new ads so far. Two have focused on his plan for a 15 percent tax cut. Another has attacked Clinton as failing to deal with drug abuse.
The fourth ad is the five-minute spot aired for the first time last night, a biographical portrait of Dole similar to the video shown to the Republican National Convention. The ad also invokes some of the lines from Dole's speech in May, when he announced that he was resigning from the Senate after 33 years in Congress.
Five-minute network spots are unusual because they are costly and unlikely to hold attention as effectively as 30-second ads. The Clinton campaign has aired no TV ad longer than 30 seconds.
"We wanted to give Dole another chance to explain to voters in an unfiltered way who he is, where he came from and what kind of man he is," said Gary Koops, a Dole spokesman.
Pub Date: 9/06/96