Even in the shelter of his family, the unguarded moments are rare. Bob Dole was raised to be reticent, and his years struggling against disability made him loathe asking for help.
But in August, one night before he was to be nominated as the Republican candidate for president, Dole came home and did just that. At a family dinner in Russell, Kan., he stood at the head of a long table, his voice breaking.
"I know you all have prayed for me a lot, especially when I was recovering from my injury," he said. "But I need your prayers again, daily."
"It was a very moving moment," recalls Norma Jean Steele, Dole's sister. "Bob doesn't talk a lot about his faith, but it's always in his heart. His family knows that ultimately he depends on God."
Much like the Bible verses his wife, Elizabeth, tucks into his shirt pockets, religion is something the 73-year-old politician keeps deep inside, say friends, relatives and staffers. Dole and his wife pray together privately, Steele says, and discuss Bible verses or other spiritual readings.
But publicly, when Dole talks about his beliefs, he speaks instead about traditional American values such as hard work, integrity, honesty and trust.
They were interchangeable with religious faith in the tough, dry prairie town of Dole's childhood, says the Rev. Glenn Tombaugh, pastor of Dole's former church in Russell.
"When he was growing up, church was tied more to duty, and there was less emphasis on personal, experiential types of expressions," Tombaugh says. "The mainline churches, which are mostly found here -- Methodists, Lutheran and Catholics make up the majority of the population -- aren't going to talk about their faith."
In speeches, Dole has said that his beliefs were shaped by hardships: growing up during the Depression, leading troops into battle as an Army lieutenant in World War II and fighting to recover from a disfiguring war wound.
"I found my philosophy in the poetry of America," Dole said at an appearance in Russell in March. "It was here that I learned not to wear my heart on my sleeve. But I also learned to feel deeply for my country and my family that some things are worth living for, and some are worth sacrificing for."
Famously allergic to self-revelation, Dole shares his most private thoughts only with his wife, friends and associates say.
People who have known the former Senate majority leader for years describe him as a loner, and many say he never talks about religious beliefs. But Elizabeth Dole, who is outspoken about her Christianity, has said that the couple spends devotional time together, praying or listening to sermons on the radio.
"I think Elizabeth is Bob's spiritual adviser," says the Rev. Edward Bauman, a retired Methodist pastor. "I was his pastor for several years, but he never called me for guidance or help. In some ways, it's like a macho thing. A guy doesn't ask for help. A guy is going to take care of things himself."
If he wins the election in November, Dole would claim a prize he has coveted for most of his career. With it, though, would come enormous burdens.
The presidency humbles men, says historian James MacGregor Burns. "The weight of the office is such that often they have to turn to prayer," he says. "They pray for divine guidance, and they pray for personal solace."
Religion has become increasingly important to American voters. A study released last summer by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said that religion is a "strong and growing force" in the way Americans think about politics.
"[Religion] has a bearing on political affiliation, political values, policy attitudes and candidate choice," the study said. "Its increasing influence on political opinion and behavior rivals factors such as race, region, age, social class and gender."
The influence of religion is particularly strong in the GOP. Some 31 percent of its members are white, evangelical Protestants, and they are among the most loyal and active Republicans.
"They hear about politics in their churches," says Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew study. "They get literature on issues and candidates in their churches. They are the most powerful religious group in politics today."
Dole has spent a lot of time on the campaign trail courting these groups. Yet, even with this made-to-order constituency, he talks about his vision for America only in secular terms.
"You are going to decide who is going to provide moral leadership in America," Dole charged at a rally in Iowa. "Maybe establishment politicians like Steve Forbes and Bill Clinton are uncomfortable with religious conservatives. They think people of faith have no place in politics, but they are wrong. Today, America's greatest challenges are moral and cultural."
Dole told Catholic editors that at the top of his to-do list would be restoring social and moral order. And he appealed to Catholic support of social missions, saying, "I learned the hard way that while self-reliance is an essential part of the American character, so is that generous spirit that reaches out to those wounded in body and soul."
And, explaining that he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger, he promised that he would support a ban on late-term, "partial-birth" abortions.
During the campaign, he has made a few fleeting, lighthearted references to religion. In June, after a meeting with Mother Teresa, Dole quipped, "She has a good sense of humor not a bad business card."
In Amana, Iowa, last month, Dole promised a gathering of mud-splotched farmers that he would move power out of the hands of politicians in Washington and shift it closer to the people.
He pulled a card from his shirt pocket with the words of the 10th Amendment. The amendment -- which protects states' rights -- is so important to him, Dole says, that he keeps it with him everywhere he goes.
With a wink and a grin, he added that he carries the card "along with some Scriptures that my wife gives me to read."
It was a quintessential Dole aside that got a few laughs from the crowd and little lingering attention. But it shows how his wife tries to coax and nurture his faith.
The powerful Mrs. Dole
A powerful Washington figure in her own right, Elizabeth Dole, 60, served as a Cabinet member in the Bush and Reagan administrations. She married Dole, divorced from his first wife, in 1975.
Mrs. Dole has explained that a spiritual awakening in 1982 saved her from mental burnout. She had been so consumed with professional endeavors that she had crowded out time for family, friends and God.
"My life was threatened with spiritual starvation," she said earlier this year at a revival in Anaheim Stadium. "I had God neatly compartmentalized, crammed into a crowded file drawer of my life somewhere in between gardening and government."
She "is a genuine seeker," says Bauman, the Methodist minister. Her faith is authentic. It's not a fake thing, or a political thing or a hokey thing. She's spiritually hungry and her faith in God is the most important thing to her."
For more than 10 years, the Doles attended Foundry United Methodist Church, a few blocks from the White House. But a year ago, the Doles joined the National Presbyterian Church.
Friends say the couple left Foundry, in part, because the Clintons worship there. And they were increasingly uncomfortable with the sermons of J. Philip Wogamon, a liberal pastor who arrived four years ago.
Wogamon, an ethics professor at Wesley Theological Seminary,
allowed the dissemination of pamphlets critical of the Republican "Contract with America," and under his leadership, Foundry became one of 87 churches out of the denomination's 37,000 that have signed up for a "Reconciling" program to welcome homosexuals.
During the campaign, Mrs. Dole often meets with evangelical groups, like the powerful Christian Coalition, to tell the story of her spiritual quest and promote her husband's candidacy.
The coalition -- some 2 million members and supporters connected by phone banks and mailing lists across the country -- has become an important election tool for the Republican Party. The coalition has printed voters guides that give Democratic candidates low marks for their stands on abortion, gay rights, prayer in school and crime.
In terms of their outward religious zeal, it is ironic that most members of the coalition support Dole. In some ways, President Clinton is more like them.
He is a Southern Baptist who can quote Scripture from memory, knows the words to the standard gospel hymns, and is at ease putting his faith on display.
But Christian conservative voters object to his support for abortion rights and gay rights, and often point to charges that he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War and cheated on his wife.
At almost every campaign stop, Dole feeds those concerns about Clinton by emphasizing his own strength of character. A poster with the slogan "Trust Dole" greets visitors to his campaign headquarters, and Dole urges voters to think about whether they can trust Clinton.
"Don't just trust the candidate; take time to verify," Dole said last month in a speech in St. Louis. "Does he honor his commitments, does he tell the truth, does he say what he means? Does he keep his word?"
Conservative religious voters haven't always been satisfied with Dole's own steadfastness. Earlier this year, he angered them by pressing for the GOP platform to include a statement of tolerance for members who favor abortion rights. Under pressure, he dropped the effort.
For Gary Bauer, director of the conservative Family Research Council, Dole's flip-flop on the tolerance statement and alleged reluctance to articulate his core beliefs raises questions about the former senator's convictions.
"It is a little troubling to me because unless people have a faith basis for the things that they do, then it is very easy for them to cave in when things get hot," Bauer says. "But I think the movement is driven by issues and he'll do OK as long as he stands for the right issues."
Tears and prayer
The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist minister, doesn't doubt Dole's faith.
"Bob Dole is a deeply spiritual person," says Graham. "He has a strong religious side to him that most people don't know about."
Graham recalls a 1975 meeting with Dole and John Hanford, Dole's late father-in-law. Hanford had been suffering from heart problems and Dole thought it important for him to see the minister to be sure he "was prepared to meet God," Graham says.
Graham prayed with the two men, he says, and reassured Dole that his father-in-law was ready.
Dole, Graham says, "wept tears of joy."
For nearly half his life, Dole attended Trinity United Methodist Church, a stone-faced building one block off Russell's main street. The Methodism of that time was a somber, God-fearing brand of religion.
While the church now emphasizes God's compassion, says William Lawrence, a professor at Duke University's divinity school, Sunday School texts of the 1920s and 1930s depicted God as a white-haired man who sat in judgment, weighing good deeds against sins.
As a teen-ager, Dole was president of Hi-Y, a Christian youth organization. He and his three siblings went to Sunday school, but their parents did not attend church regularly because they worked so much, according to Dole's sister, Gloria Nelson.
The Doles were poor. Dornan Dole sold eggs and cream. Bina Dole sold sewing machines. For a while the family lived in their basement and rented the upstairs to a wealthy oil prospector. The parents taught their children to be stoic in hard times.
"We learned a lot about values, about honesty and decency and responsibility and integrity and self-reliance and loving your God and your family and your church and your community," Bob Dole said of his childhood in August at a campaign appearance in Columbus, Ohio.
The test of faith
Dole's most critical test came in 1945 when he was shot on a hill in northern Italy in World War II.
For three years, Dole lay helpless in various body casts, fighting killer infections. A one-time star athlete, Dole was unable to eat, sleep or move without excruciating pain.
"I prayed a lot of silent prayers in those days, at least some of them tinged with initial bitterness," Dole wrote in his memoir. "Why me? I demanded. Why hadn't someone been watching out for me. In time, I came to realize that someone was watching out for me and had been from the morning of April 14 . Maybe it was all part of a plan, a test of endurance and strength and, above all, of faith."
Bauman, the retired Methodist pastor, believes that Dole's faith was shaped during those bleak years when he was trying to mend his shattered body.
"There is a harshness about his personality," he says. "There may have been bitterness in his early spirituality because of the poverty of his childhood and because of the war, but that bitterness has been tempered with time."
Belief in God, however, did not mean life would get much easier. In 1947, his shoulders mangled, Dole went to Chicago to seek the help of Dr. Hampar Kelikian, a pioneer in orthopedic surgery.
"I was still looking for a miracle," Dole wrote. "Dr. K sat me down and delivered the equivalent of a slap in the face. 'There would be no miracles,' he told me. He would do all he could to give me back as much use of my arm as possible, but after that it was up to me to make the most of what I had. What he was really saying was accept the situation and get on with the business of life."
Since then, it has been hard work and lucky breaks rather than miracles, personal strength rather than divine intervention, that Dole stresses as the key to success.
"The long and short of it is this: In America, if you want to reach for the stars, you reach for the stars. If you want to keep fighting and trying, if you get a break here and there, there's no telling how high you might go," Dole said in his campaign speech in Columbus. "It's up to you. It's up to you. It's up to you."
Tomorrow A look at the role of religion in President Clinton's personal life and in his political outlook.
Pub Date: 10/13/96