RALEIGH, N.C.—As the chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, it was Sen. Elizabeth Dole's job to keep the Senate in GOP hands. She couldn't.
So after two years in the Senate Republican leadership, Dole tumbles into the minority—back to her status as the freshman senator from North Carolina and, perhaps, out of favor among Republican activists frustrated by Tuesday's election results.
Dole said she's satisfied with her performance.
"I can sleep well at night knowing we did everything possible to hold the Senate," she said in a telephone interview Thursday. "All I know is I worked my head off, and that's all you can do."
She held out hope until the end, saying as late as midday Thursday that "the Senate is not settled." Within hours, Republican incumbents Conrad Burns in Montana and George Allen Virginia conceded defeat, and the Democrats took over the Senate by a 51-49 margin.
The GOP lost for a variety of reasons: not enough money, not enough time, not enough political magic to counter voters' discontent with the war in Iraq, with President Bush and with congressional corruption.
"It was just too massive to overcome it," Dole said.
Throughout the campaign, Dole was steadfast in her support of Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. On Sunday, she said on a network talk show that Rumsfeld didn't need to leave.
Bush ousted Rumsfeld on Wednesday.
Dole said she didn't know that a Pentagon switch was in the works, but she said that if Rumsfeld had departed earlier, it might have made a difference for Republican candidates.
"It could have," she said. "It very well could have."
Privately, there've been Republican grumbles for the past year about Dole's fundraising. Although she raised 12 percent more money in the past two years than her committee did in the previous election cycle, she collected far less than did her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
The difference hurt candidates in the trenches, some Republicans said.
One of the most-watched states was Missouri, where incumbent Sen. Jim Talent seemed safe until the Democratic challenger, Claire McCaskill, posted a strong run. McCaskill won in a close vote.
John Hancock, a political adviser to Talent from St. Louis, said it might have helped Talent if Dole's Republican senatorial committee had sent more money into the state and sent it earlier. Instead, the Democratic Senate committee poured in millions for McCaskill, overwhelming what Republicans could do, he said.
But Hancock and others said that neither Dole nor her committee should be blamed for Tuesday's losses.
Charlie Cook, the publisher of the Cook Political Report in Washington, said that Bush should shoulder most of the blame.
"Is there going to be criticism of Senator Dole? Yes," Cook said. "Is it justified? Well, look: Is she the greatest fundraiser the Republicans and the NRSC have ever had? No."
But, Cook said, blaming the losses on Dole "is just crazy."
Dole's work at the National Republican Senatorial Committee ended with a scramble Tuesday night at committee headquarters. She scurried among workers as the results came in, monitored precincts, heard the whoops when a state looked good and the grumbles when another didn't.
She didn't leave until after 1 a.m. Wednesday.
The committee likely will elect its next chairman next week. Dole will continue her priorities for North Carolina. She's trying to get federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe, push community college legislation and investigate predatory lending in the military.
Dole hopes that the relationships she built in the chairmanship post will help her in the Senate.
Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report, said that Dole shouldn't have problems with her colleagues.
"What she doesn't have is a bunch of freshmen who are grateful for her help," Duffy said. "But I don't think she burns bridges. Even the most partisan people have to look around and say, `Well, nothing could've been done.'"
As far as politics goes, Dole now turns to another important race: her own re-election in 2008.
She's already begun raising money.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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