WAKEENEY, Kansas, June 4, 2014 ( – In 1974, pro-life voters helped up-and-coming Senator Bob Dole narrowly defeat a Democratic congressman and abortionist who gave Dole the closest national election of his career. Nearly 40 years later, Dole has apologized to the abortionist for what he now views as over-the-top rhetoric from some of his pro-life supporters.

The former U.S. senator and three-time presidential hopeful, now 90, reminisced about his first Senate re-election in the town of WaKeeney, Kansas (population 1,852) last Thursday.

In the shadow of the Watergate scandal, the 1974 midterm elections saw Democrats pick up 49 seats in the House and four in the Senate. Dole who served as chairman of the Republican Party during Watergate, nearly became the fifth casualty. His Democratic opponent, Dr. William Roy, a two-term congressman and physician from Topeka, led the incumbent by six percentage points that fall.


But Roy had his own vulnerability: The OB/GYN and law school graduate had performed abortions and written a legal defense of abortion based on privacy rights that predated Roe.

Newly mobilized pro-life activists swept into action, taking out ads, knocking on doors, and highlighting the barbarity of abortion. They also distributed 50,000 anti-Roy pamphlets that featured a picture of an aborted baby in a trash can.

After the election, Dole distanced himself from the pro-life leaflets. However, his election filings reported pro-life literature as an in-kind donation – something that implies the campaign itself authorized or gave its approval to its contents.

Not all of the pro-life campaigning was carried out by Dole's surrogates. Failing to connect with his business message, he raised the abortion issue in what was supposed to be a debate on farm policy. Dole reportedly turned to Roy and demanded, “I want to know how many abortions you've done.”

On election night, Dole won by a mere 13,532 votes, or one percent of the vote.

The election, which some have called the pro-life movement's “first political victory,” became a flashpoint in the culture wars. In her 10-part history of abortion in America, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias called the Dole vs. Roy showdown “the first major statewide political battle after the Roe v. Wade decision.”

Four decades later, Dole still remembers it, but in a less flattering light. “That was a race where abortion was a big issue. It got sort of nasty, because some of our campaigners were going over the top,” Dole said last week, according to the Hays (Kansas) Post.

Then Dole revealed, “I called Bill [Roy] about four years ago, and I said ‘Bill we haven’t talked since a long time ago, but if I said anything during the campaign that was offensive to you, I apologize.’ He said, ‘No you didn’t, but some of the people who were campaigning for you did.’”


“I apologized and told him that sometimes you can’t control what people do for you,” Dole said.

The election proved pivotal for both men. Roy made one more stab at electoral office in 1976, losing to pro-abortion Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum. He then became a liberal newspaper columnist where, among other things, he defended legalized abortion. Roy died last Monday at the age of 88.

Dole himself never looked back. Just two years later, President Gerald Ford would tap the Kansas senator as his running mate to replace pro-abortion Republican Nelson Rockefeller, who declined to run for election. In time, Dole became Republican leader in the U.S. Senate. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 before winning in 1996.

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For the keynote speaker of the 1996 convention in San Diego, he chose then-Congresswoman Susan Molinari, a New York native who supported abortion-on-demand. He also tried unsuccessfully to add a plank welcoming pro-abortion Republicans into the GOP. After supporters of runner-up candidate Pat Buchanan drafted a conservative, pro-life platform, Dole said he was “not bound by the platform,” and he and running mate Jack Kemp both denied they had even read it.

Dole lost the general election by more than 8.2 million votes, or 8.5 percent of the electorate.

Dole, who recently criticized the Republican Party for its unwillingness to compromise with President Obama, warned the crowd in WaKeeney of the negative impact conservatives may have on the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. “In the Republican Party, we have the traditional Republican conservatives, like most people are in Kansas. And then we have people who are a part of this right wing ‘fringe,’” he said, “people who are extremely conservative, who don’t contribute much and just vote against everything.”


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