RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole's 40-year tenure in the nation's capital took her from the inner circles of presidents to leading the American Red Cross. Now ousted from Congress, she's been left to plot the next chapter in one of Washington's most storied careers.
Dole said in an interview Thursday she has no plans to retire from public service, but the 72-year-old has not decided what comes next.
"I haven't thought about it — that's for another day," Dole said.
For one, her political career may be over. Though she deemed the Senate seat the highest honor of her life, Dole struggled to adjust from the autonomy of executive experience to the backslapping negotiations, leaving after just one term with no major legislative accomplishments.
"I'm not by nature a politician," she told supporters in an emotional Election Day speech after Democratic challenger Kay Hagan won the seat. "I have to say, I've never been completely at home with the boys plotting back in the Senate cloak room."
The native of Salisbury said in an interview that she was prepared for the loss. And she sounded relieved at having a chance to relax after a grueling schedule in the past couple of months that mixed her re-election bid with a chaotic push in Congress to fix the financial crisis.
"I've been very upbeat," Dole said. "That's the way I feel: You know, you move on."
It's just not clear yet where she will land.
Delaying discussions on her future, Dole instead has focused the last couple days on lining up new jobs for her staff and catching up with friends and family. But she has no plans to retire.
"My whole life has been about trying to help out others," Dole said. "That's what moves me, is finding areas where you can make a difference."
Dole began her career taking cases for indigents who couldn't afford a lawyer before transitioning to work in White House inner circles by fighting for consumer protection in the administration of Lyndon Johnson. She stayed around as an aide to Richard Nixon on the subject, including a lengthy term on the Federal Trade Commission.
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As the secretary of transportation under President Reagan, Dole was instrumental in adding airbags to cars, pushing states to pass safety belt laws and advocating for an increase in the drinking age to 21. As secretary of labor under the first President Bush, she played a key role in bringing an end to the violent dispute between Pittston Coal Group and a miners' union.
During her concession speech on Election Day, the veteran public servant remembered weeping over Rwandan babies while serving as president of the American Red Cross.
"I saw things there that will haunt me the rest of my life," she said in the speech.
The Dole name has been branded in politics for half a century. Dole's husband, Bob Dole, served as a senator from Kansas for 30 years, rising to become the Senate's Republican leader for a decade. He was the GOP's nominee for president in 1996.
Elizabeth Dole later went on to a presidential bid of her own but pulled out before the 2000 primary season began.
Dole's chief of staff, Brian Nick, said Thursday he'd be surprised if the senator stayed in politics after she leaves her office to Hagan.
"She's liked the public service part of being a senator a lot more than the political part," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if she did something philanthropic related, something in nature of the American Red Cross."
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