OMAHA, Neb. -- Truck stops. bowling alleys, all-night diners. Rally after rally after rally. The landscape of America seen from buses and airport tarmacs starts to look all the same.
But one-third of the way through Bob Dole's 96-hour, 19-state sprint to Election Day, there was little sign that "Marathon Man" would falter.
Dole, a 73-year-old man who normally strives for at least seven hours of sleep a night, seems strained but also energized by this last-minute bid to change the widely anticipated outcome of his challenge to President Clinton.
"I believe it's going to happen," Dole told reporters shortly before sunrise this morning at the airport in Newark, N.J.
"I try to be honest with myself try to be objective," he said. But finding 400 boisterous fans waiting in he middle of the night at the Bendix Diner in nearby Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., persuaded him: "The excitement's there. The electricity is there. If it weren't, they wouldn't get up at 4: 30 in the morning."
Dole took the handle "Marathon Man" when he signed onto a CB radio aboard a trucker's rig in Michigan Friday night, and looked better at 6 a.m. yesterday morning than he had the night before, despite only an hour of sleep in between.
"So far, so good," he said a few hours later. "I wouldn't want to filibuster right now."
By 25 hours into the journey, Dole had taken another hour-and-a-half nap, and yielded speaking chores to his wife, Elizabeth, at a rally at Thomas More College, a Catholic school in Crestview, Ky.
Mrs. Dole, who peeled off from the campaign trip to get a full night's sleep, delivered a barn-burner, charging the liberal rights movement had run amok. She said excesses included racial quotas, pornography and late-term abortions.
On his way to Omaha last night, the GOP nominee told reporters aboard his campaign plane that he undertook the 96-hour ordeal to help shake up the campaign.
"Couldn't think of anything else," Dole said. "It's my last option."
Dole said he had tried other strategies, but he acknowledged that they "didn't work."
Though Dole has been looking for votes in unfamiliar places, he is finding mostly his loyal troops.
His crowds have been built by Republican leaders who hastily passed invitations to activists in their ranks. Others have come at the bidding of radio talk show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh.
The goal of those who have come to see him has been to give him some encouragement, many said.
"You've really got to admire a 73-year-old man who does something like this," Ruth Lingenbahn, 74, of Fort Thomas, Ky., said of Dole's four-day, nonstop sojourn.
Rarely has Dole encountered the sort of uncommitted, wavering voter he said he was looking for Thursday. Dole chose to take it as a good sign, though, that at least the faithful showed up.
"I want you to get out there and work," he told a 7: 30 a.m. gathering of 200 at the Lagoon Restaurant in Essington, Pa. "We can win this thing. Wouldn't that surprise everybody?"
Yes, even some supporters say. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum gave Dole only a "one in three" chance of carrying his state.
Clinton Democrats dogged Dole all along his route, causing disruptions where they could. At a stop in Columbus, Ohio, a Clinton supporter came dressed as Brunhild, the "fat lady" who sings the last song in the opera, "The Twilight of the Gods."
In his radio address yesterday afternoon, Dole made a final attempt to concisely lay out the reasons he wants to be president -- a vision critics have said was lacking earlier in the campaign.
Taping the broadcast on a bus rolling across Michigan, he spoke of cutting taxes, balancing the budget, fighting drug abuse, saving Medicare, promoting "equal opportunity" by ending hiring preferences, and presiding over a White House that "never compromises its ethics."
The radio address parallels his basic speech in these final days.
"These are my views," he says. In an implied contrast to Clinton, Dole said, "I will not be reinvented. I will not turn against the values that shaped me. I will never run on a stolen agenda. I will never be ashamed of my roots."
Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Dole yesterday in Pennsylvania, sidestepped reporters' questions about whether he was disappointed at the sharply conservative stands Dole is emphasizing at the end of the contest, particularly on hiring preferences.
"Bob Dole and Jack Kemp are two people in public life who have VTC demonstrated in their careers that they are committed to equal opportunity and civil rights. We can disagree about specific efforts-- and we do -- Americans of all shapes and colors are included."
Dole decided yesterday to expand his itinerary to 19 states from 12, in an effort to give a last-minute boost in areas that might be starting to tilt his way.
After hopping west last night with stops in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado and Nevada, Dole planned to spend all day today in California -- the nation's biggest electoral prize.
Tomorrow, he is scheduled to head back east, touching down in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Iowa.
Dole plans to wind up on Election Day with a symbolic stop at the birthplace of Harry S. Truman in Independence, Mo., where he will pay tribute to the patron saint of underdog candidates in both political parties.
The 96-hour sprint is being targeted to conclude at noon in his hometown of Russell, Kan., where Dole will finally get a chance to vote for himself for president.
He jokingly hints at rallies that the entire ordeal may have been intended to "get back at the media," whom he has accused of being biased toward Clinton.
At 2: 53 a.m. yesterday -- after an hourlong nap in Detroit -- Dole appeared in the press section of his campaign plane to offer a deal: "I get three good stories from each of you, and we'll call this thing off."
L Dole had one other condition. "I get to write 'em," he said.
Pub Date: 11/03/96