Robert Dole hopes 1988 will be the year of the political insider. Senator Dole, who officially launched his bid for the White House yesterday, is banking on his Washington savvy, his reputation for toughness, and what his supporters call old-fashioned, Kansas-bred common sense to grab the Republican nomination.
But Mr. Dole will be bucking recent history. Ever since 1976, American voters have been partial to outsiders like Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan - men who bashed Washington and the bureaucrats who run it.
With nearly 27 years of experience in Washington, Dole is the ultimate insider, the skilled legislator, the man who knows how Capitol Hill works.
Yesterday, in a subtle jab at Vice-President George Bush, his archrival, Dole told a cheering crowd in his hometown of Russell, Kan.: ``I offer a record, not a r'esum'e.''
Dole's supporters say this is his moment. Public frustration is mounting. Huge federal budget deficits hang over Washington and the American economy like a dark cloud. The stock market has slumped. The Iran-contra scandal reduced confidence in Reagan foreign policy. Partisan bickering divides the capital over Supreme Court nominees.
All this sets the stage for Dole, his aides say. Dole can run as a pro who can get things done.
He is off to a fast start. He has assembled a top-flight team that includes his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, and former Labor Secretary William Brock. Money is pouring in at the rate of $500,000 a week. And he is a strong second in the polls.
But Dole has one major, perhaps insurmountable, obstacle: Vice-President Bush.
At one time, it was assumed that Mr. Bush would be badly hobbled by President Reagan's problems, especially the Iran-contra affair and the stock market plunge. Yet Bush has survived, and even strengthened his hand in Iowa and other early-voting states.
Dole, meanwhile, has found himself immersed in Washington's struggle over the budget deficit. It's an important role, but it leaves little time for campaigning.