In Bob Dole’s Hometown, Kansans Grieve for the Man and His Political Style

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RUSSELL, Kan. — A quarter-century has passed since Bob Dole near the Senate and mislaid his bid for the presidency. But successful his hometown connected the Kansas Plains, a spot Mr. Dole gave near-mythic presumption successful his governmental root story, helium is inactive everywhere: On the broadside of the atom elevator. On a downtown mural. On thoroughfare signs and plaques and, astatine the section humanities society, successful black-and-white photos wherever helium is hunting jack rabbits and wearing a Russell High Broncos hoops jersey.

As Russell’s 4,400 residents mourned Mr. Dole, who died connected Sunday astatine property 98, galore besides grieved for their hometown senator’s attack to governance, 1 successful which compromises were celebrated and opponents were not enemies. They said a small much Bob, arsenic radical successful Russell called him, mightiness conscionable assistance detoxify the nationalist discourse.

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While announcing his program  to question    the 1980 statesmanlike  information   successful  Russell, Mr. Dole said helium  was committed to getting the American radical   to “believe successful  themselves again.”
Credit...Bettmann Collection via Getty Images

“The warring we’ve got going connected now, I cognize helium was truthful against that,” said Lance Waymaster, who farms extracurricular Russell and who got to cognize Mr. Dole done the section Veterans of Foreign Wars post, which is situated conscionable disconnected Bob Dole Drive.

Mr. Dole spent overmuch of his big beingness successful Washington, but his affection for Russell stretched beyond the modular romance betwixt person and hometown. He dispensed proposal to Kansas Republicans, made definite his puerility location adjacent the railroad tracks stayed successful his household and work the newsletter from the V.F.W. post, wherever helium was a charter member. But astir of all, helium spoke with enduring gratitude and emotion astir however Russell residents pooled wealth successful a cigar box to assistance screen his expenses erstwhile helium returned from World War II with terrible shoulder, limb and spine injuries.

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Credit...Christopher Smith for The New York Times

“There ought to beryllium astatine slightest 1 spot for each idiosyncratic wherever helium oregon she is accepted with unjudging emotion and strengthened and reassured by it, and for maine that spot is here,” Mr. Dole said successful Russell successful 1979, erstwhile helium announced his first of 3 campaigns for president.

Russell loved him back. Daron Woelk, who owns a jewelry store connected the brick-paved Main Street, described a treasured photograph of himself arsenic a toddler with Mr. Dole, successful which the legislator signed his sanction and joked that young Daron looked similar a bully Republican. The connection stuck. Mr. Woelk was elected to the region committee past twelvemonth connected the Republican ticket.

“Bob was 1 of a benignant — unfortunately,” said Mr. Woelk, whose store is conscionable up the thoroughfare from the limestone courthouse with a statue of the erstwhile senator. “I deliberation we’d each beryllium amended disconnected if determination were much men similar him.”

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Credit...John Filo/Associated Press

Mr. Dole was a arrogant Republican who served successful enactment enactment and fought fiercely for blimpish policies. He called wars “Democrat wars” and was referred to by immoderate arsenic “Nixon’s hatchet man,” but helium besides made celebrated compromises with Democrats. He helped grow the nutrient stamp program, rescue Social Security and walk the Americans With Disabilities Act, partnering with liberals whom helium disagreed with connected different issues. More recently, helium endorsed Donald J. Trump for president, but met with President Biden, an aged workfellow successful the Senate, aft helium took office.

Larry Nelson, Mr. Dole’s nephew, who lives successful and maintains the senator’s puerility location connected the northbound broadside of town, questioned whether his uncle’s doctrine would resonate successful Washington today.

“Bob was not your run-of-the-mill person ever; Bob was a statesman,” Mr. Nelson said. “He would not acceptable successful this radical of radical connected the Hill now.”

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Credit...Christopher Smith for The New York Times

But Mr. Dole’s attack worked successful Kansas, a blimpish authorities that often values pragmatism implicit enactment purity. The existent governor, Laura Kelly, won connected the Democratic summons successful 2018 amid a backlash to a sweeping bundle of taxation cuts engineered by Republicans that near the authorities successful a fund crisis. Russell was besides the puerility location of Arlen Specter, who represented Pennsylvania successful the Senate for decades, archetypal arsenic a Republican, past arsenic a Democrat.

“I deliberation they’re going to person to not beryllium connected specified rigid ‘I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican, and we volition not bash thing together,’” Aldean Banker, a Russell nonmigratory who erstwhile served connected authorities Republican committees, said. She was an alternate delegate for Mr. Dole astatine a nationalist normal but voted for Ms. Kelly successful 2018. “I deliberation we’re going to person to larn to springiness and instrumentality a small and spell backmost to having a gathering of minds.”

Russell was and remains profoundly Republican. Last year, Mr. Trump received 81 percent of the votes successful Russell County, which includes the metropolis and surrounding countryside. About 90 percent of Russell residents are white, and astir 24 percent of radical are 65 oregon older, compared with 16 percent statewide. The system is driven by a wide scope of industries: agriculture, oil, wellness care, manufacturing and retail, some on Interstate 70 and successful the engaged downtown, wherever a section vigor presumption plays each time connected outdoor speakers.

Almost everyone successful Russell seems to person a Bob Dole story, oregon several. Some shared steak dinners with him astatine Meridy’s Restaurant and Lounge. Others recalled him stopping by the V.F.W. post, wherever Dole pineapple foodstuff was served successful enactment of his campaign. Others remembered that the legislator would gamely instrumentality retired his near manus erstwhile they extended their close arm; Mr. Dole’s warfare injuries near him incapable to shingle right-handed.

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Credit...Bettmann Collection via Getty Images

“He would support you from reasoning you were embarrassing yourself, making a clumsy move,” said Mayor Jim Cross, a uncommon Democrat successful Russell, but a arrogant Dole elector whose girl was among a ample section contingent that watched Mr. Dole judge the information astatine the 1996 Republican National Convention.

Though helium lived successful Washington, Mr. Dole remained a predominant visitant to Russell until recently, erstwhile his declining wellness made question impossible. He remained engaged, though, posting connected Twitter astir Kosovo past week and keeping way of Kansas politics.

In a file Mr. Dole wrote soon earlier his decease that was published successful The Washington Post this week, helium reflected connected his travel from west-central Kansas to immoderate of the highest perches successful American government. He besides lamented governmental divisions and said, “Bipartisanship is the minimum we should expect from ourselves.”

“My location astatine commencement was a three-room house,” Mr. Dole wrote. “I grew up during the Dust Bowl, erstwhile truthful galore of america helplessly watched our livelihoods stroke distant with the wind. I person ever felt humbled to unrecorded successful a federation that would let my improbable communicative to unfold.”

As that communicative unfolded, and arsenic Mr. Dole kept returning to Russell, residents said helium instilled a consciousness of anticipation successful them, too.

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Credit...Christopher Smith for The New York Times

Troy Waymaster, who astatine property 10 looked connected from Main Street erstwhile Mr. Dole announced his 2nd tally for the presidency successful 1987, said that code began his involvement successful politics. He present presides implicit the Appropriations Committee successful the Kansas House of Representatives.

Mr. Waymaster, a Republican who lives conscionable extracurricular Russell and farms with his father, Lance, said Mr. Dole called a fewer months agone erstwhile helium was getting acceptable to enactment connected the wheat crop. They talked astir adjacent year’s predetermination for governor, erstwhile Republicans anticipation to reclaim the seat.

Mr. Waymaster said Mr. Dole often pushed for much bipartisanship and much compromise. That creation whitethorn not beryllium wholly dead. Last month, Mr. Waymaster joined different Republicans successful the Legislature to walk a measure creating exemptions to employers’ Covid-19 vaccine mandates. Ms. Kelly disappointed immoderate of her chap Democrats by signing it into law.

“I cognize determination are Kansans who judge this authorities goes excessively far, and determination are others who judge this authorities doesn’t spell acold enough,” the politician said successful a statement. “But I was elected to lead, and enactment means seeking compromise.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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