Negative public perceptions of then-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t help Republican Bob Dole in his failed 1996 presidential bid. For Dole, it’s payback time.
In an “open letter” released today by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign as Florida’s Jan. 31 primary approaches, Dole calls Gingrich a “a one-man-band who rarely took advice” and whose ideas were mostly “off the wall.”
He says that if Gingrich prevails over the former Massachusetts governor in their battle for the party’s nomination, “it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices.”
Dole, 88, makes clear he speaks from experience.
“In my run for the presidency in 1996, the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad,” the former Kansas senator says. “He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year.”
President Bill Clinton took 49 percent of the vote in winning re-election in 1996, while Dole got 41 percent and independent Ross Perot 8 percent. Democrats also gained nine House seats in the election, though Republicans retained the chamber’s majority.
Dole’s statement, headlined “Mitt Romney Is My Choice For President,” also includes this recollection from his 1996 race concerning Gingrich: “Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty ice-bucket in his hand -- that was a symbol of some sort for him -- and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it.”
Responding to the attack, R.C. Hammond, Gingrich’s spokesman, noted in an e-mail that Dole endorsed Romney some weeks ago.
Hammond in a later message on the Twitter social networking site said: “Hey Bob Dole, remember when they invented the refrigerator?”
Republican gains in the 1994 midterm elections paved the way for Dole to become Senate majority leader and Gingrich the House speaker when Congress convened in January 1995.
Dole gave up his post in June 1996 to focus on his presidential race. Gingrich stepped down as speaker after Republicans lost a few more House seats in the 1998 elections, though again the party kept its chamber majority.
“In my opinion if we want to avoid an Obama landslide in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard bearer,” Dole said in his statement.