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Dole Reconnects with Kansas in Sentimental Farewell Tour

By Stephen Braun
LOs Angeles Times

He didn't have to come, and neither did they.

Preoccupied with his Beltway life, Bob Dole has more important things to do than take the old highways he once rode deep into small-town Kansas over four decades in Congress. And the people who once voted for him have their own lives to get on with, routines that could do without interruption from a idled former senator no longer beholden to them

But sometimes, when a public life winds down, the human connections made over its course still glow like embers. More than a year after his presidential campaign loss, Dole has returned to Kansas' back roads to stoke those coals one last time.

Flying in several days a month from his lucrative work as a Washington lobbyist, Dole, 74, has embarked on a "thank-you tour" through each of Kansas' 105 counties.

In prairie towns like El Dorado and Arkansas City, Delphos and Miltonvale, Dole and the Kansans turning out by the hundreds are celebrating the ordinary in American politics. For 37 years, Dole's punishing expeditions into remote counties to glad-hand at Rotary clubs, Legion halls and county fairgrounds were an indelible feature of Kansas' civic landscape. Even in a state where officials pride themselves on a common touch that is fading elsewhere, Dole's prodigious memory for names and faces and his Spartan ability to endure road life remain legendary.

The tour is an unspoken farewell to all that, a final reunion for Dole and his now-aging supporters - and a tribute to the countless coffees, ladies club meetings and chicken dinners that cemented the bonds of a political life.

"It's important for towns like ours to know that we matter. Bob always made sure we felt that way," said El Dorado jeweler Richard Trombla, 78, a World War II veteran who came to a roadside motel meeting room recently to hail his old friend. "If this is the last time, there's a lot of people who want him to know how much his coming all those years meant to us."