Seeking Re-election in 1974
September 01,1974


Dole’s second Senate campaign was perhaps his most important—and his closest. Eight weeks before the November election, Dole was trailing his opponent, Congressman Bill Roy, by a full twelve points. Dole agreed to a public debate with Roy at the Kansas State Fair. Hoping his wit and quick thinking would give him the advantage, Dole supporters canvassed the state to bring other Dole supporters to the fair on the day of the debate. Roy took Dole by surprise, hammering him with questions about his voting record. The debate was supposed to be on the topic of agriculture, but quickly took a different direction. For the first time in a political debate the topic of abortion was brought up. Representative Roy was also a medical doctor and one of only a few in the state who preformed legal abortions. In the closing minutes of the debate, Dole told the audience that Roy delivered “abortions on demand.” The crowd booed. The Wall Street Journal declared, “This race is over.” This 1974 campaign was the first time Dole had hired professional help in designing his advertisements. One of these, the infamous “Mudslinger” ad, would go on as one of the most famous in Kansas political history. A break from the basic talking head style ads, “Mudslinger” featured a Dole campaign poster covered in mud being throw at it with resounding “splat” sounds. A voice-over listed the accusations Roy had lobbed at Dole and finished the commercial with the line, “…all of which makes Bill Roy look like just another mudslinger.” The Dole campaign went into high gear with round-the-clock canvassing and campaigning. Dole’s daughter Robin took time off from college to campaign with her grandmother, Bina. Together they traveled the state in a motor home with a speaker on top that would blare Dole’s campaign song “Let a Winner Lead the Way” as they rolled into town. Dole returned to Kansas on election night, prepared for the race to go either way. He told his parents that night that he did not know what was going to happen. Dole beat Roy by a very slim margin, winning 403,983 votes to Roy’s 390,451. Roy later said it was the abortion issue that brought his campaign down. Dole took the opportunity to take a closer look at his own role as a Senator, telling Roy to his face that he made him a better Senator. This would be the beginning of a new stage in Dole’s career, marked by increasing bipartisanship and outreach to colleagues across the aisle.