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Despite The Strain, Dole Presses Ahead Through Last Day Of Campaign Tour

By Blaine Harden
The Washington Post

With his campaign drawing to a fitful close and his voice eroding into an exhausted croak, Bob Dole pressed on into his fourth near-sleepless day of skittering around America, trying to revive his electoral fortunes by ceaseless movement and force of will.

The Republican nominee kept himself going by drinking "Throat Coat" medicinal tea, by making exceptionally short speeches and by trumpeting bits of good news, such as one aberrant weekend poll that found the election too close to call.

The point of his grueling "96-hour non-stop victory tour," Dole said, was to prove to voters "that we are dedicated, that we are committed. It is not a game."

The commitment has shown through. For instance, a smallish but high-spirited crowd turned up to applaud Dole in early morning darkness Mon-day outside a Phoenix diner. "He is a good man who has served his country well. It takes a tough man to do what he is doing," said Larry Manross, 52, vice-president of a Phoenix air-cargo company who admires Dole but says he is voting for President Clinton.

But also showing through is the physical toll that nearly three and half relentless days of barn-storming, speech-making and flesh-pressing have exacted on Dole, an exceptionally fit 73-year-old.

Besides naps on his campaign plane, Dole has had just one break, four hours or so on Sunday morning in a hotel room in La Jolla, California. He is rasping out his words now, his voice sometimes cracking like an adolescent.

In a speech Monday afternoon that Dole delivered in Houston, after being greeted by former President George Bush and his son Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the candidate spoke for less than 10 minutes and was barely audible.

On Sunday in Sacramento, at a midnight rally that was one of the best attended and most enthusiastic of the past four days, Dole asked Jack Kemp to give a long speech so that he could rest his voice.

Dole's press secretary tried to put a victorious spin on his candidate's speaking problems. "It's a good sign," said Nelson Warfield. "If anything we are stealing a page out of Bill Clinton's book. Remember, he went hoarse at the end of '92 and he won."

And when Dole's campaign plane "Citizenship" had a flat tire in Houston, Warfield called it a "good omen that Bob Dole outlasted the airplane. Nothing can stop the marathon man, not even a flat tire."

As for the one poll that Dole said showed an even race between himself and President Clinton, it did not hold up. A Reuters/Zogby poll which on the weekend had shown a race that was too close to call (given the margin of error) had changed by Monday to give Clinton a firm 7.3 point lead over Dole.

As Dole acknowledged Monday, with typically self-lacerating honesty, "I don't believe in the polls. But I'll tell you about the good ones."

In most of his stops, Dole has been giving five- or 10-minute speeches that stick to safe, traditional Republican turf. He endorses men in uniform, praises voluntary prayers and backs a constitutional amendment to protect the flag.

Only about once a day does he stoke up his anger and go after the Clinton administration in earnest. He did so here, saying that, given the number of investigations of allegedly improper behavior in the Clinton White House, "If you want a full-time president who won't be going to hearings or trials or anything else, Bob Dole is your choice."