Elizabeth Dole Couldn't Dodge the Bush Express

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This past Sunday, Elizabeth Dole, heralded by many as the most credible woman candidate ever to put herself in presidential contention, hosted the keynote luncheon of the National Federation of Women’s national convention in Seattle. She was introduced as "one of America's most powerful and admired women, always ahead of her time." This consolation would serve as the epitaph of her campaign. Dole dropped out of the race Wednesday morning, citing inadequate campaign funding. She might just as well have said that it was a case of Republicans being unready to take a woman’s candidacy seriously. The Seattle convention-goers indicated that while they admire Dole, they would rather support a candidate with a realistic chance of winning. In other words, a man. Despite having the most impressive White House credentials of any candidate (she served under four presidents) and getting rousing reactions to her speeches, Dole was unable to compete with the George W. Bush juggernaut.

"It’s a surprise she left at this point," says TIME Washington correspondent John Dickerson. "She was the story coming out of the Iowa straw polls. Everything was going in her favor, but she was just never able to make a dent into the Republican establishment types who traditionally give to campaigns. That base has been swallowed up by George Bush." Bush, with the fastest and biggest fund-raising effort in American political history, has raised more than 10 times as much as Dole.

What now for Dole? She has been mentioned for some time as a potential running mate to Bush, but her poor showing among Republican voters makes that scenario unlikely. A September ABC News/Washington Post poll found that Bush received 61 percent of the Republican women’s vote, compared to Dole’s 21 percent. "Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she’ll attract the swing votes," says Dickerson. "It’s not clear that she can pull a lot of moderate and independent women. If the Democrats have a strong vice presidential candidate who can appeal to the women’s vote, Dole might not have much value" on Bush’s ticket.