Bush Looks to Start Living Off the Dole

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Elizabeth Dole has apparently decided that now is the time for all good women to come to the aid of their party — or at least to the aid of her own bid for the White House. Dole is expected to endorse George W. Bush Tuesday, and members of Bob Dole's 1996 campaign staff say the missus has her eyes set squarely on a VP nod. Whether or not she gets that, such an announcement would further highlight the split between the Bush-backing GOP establishment and maverick John McCain. More important: The endorsement blocks the Dole surname from landing in the McCain camp. Bob Dole has long shown a desire to support McCain, his former brother-in-arms on the Senate floor, and Liddy's siding with Bush now makes that unlikely.

"This could hurt McCain in a state such as South Carolina (site of the third presidential primary), where you could plant Bob Dole for a few weeks and mobilize the veteran vote," says TIME White House correspondent John Dickerson. The McCain camp brushed aside the endorsement, calling it merely another GOP insider move by a Bush campaign built on insider moves. But the Dole seal of approval could carry serious sway in a general election in which both sides will be scraping for the Soccer Mom vote. "As Bush flirts with notion that Elzabeth is a viable vice presidential candidate, suburban mothers will associate him as not being the traditional Republican come election time," says Dickerson. "That can only help."