WASHINGTON -- Nearly a year after losing re-election to the U.S. Senate, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole no longer spends her days walking the marble floors of Capitol Hill.
But she isn't bored.
Since leaving the Senate in December, Dole has spent the past year working through her foundation, giving speeches and taking care of her ailing husband, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who suffers severe knee problems.
Today, she'll fly from Charlotte with 105 World War II veterans and their guardians to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial built to commemorate their sacrifice. The flight, which she sponsored, is in honor of her older brother, John Van Hanford Jr., a World War II veteran who died in April 2008.
"It's been nice to be able to do some things that you haven't been able to do in 40 years, you know?" Dole told The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. "I find a lot of missions that I can be involved in, and that's great. And spending more time with Bob is really important to me."
In her first extended interview about her work since leaving office, Dole, 73, said she appreciates the chance to reconnect with her husband and her charity interests. Still, she didn't rule out another shot at elected office.
"I'm not going to take anything off the table," she said.
Last year, Dole, who was born in Salisbury, lost her bid for a second Senate term to a little-known state senator, Kay Hagan. She began the race with significantly more name recognition but was burdened by her strong connection to President George W. Bush and her infrequent trips back to the state.
In her recent interview, Dole declined to look back at last year's race, saying she is concentrating on the present.
"I'm staying so busy that very honestly, there hasn't been time to focus that much," she said.
Most recently Dole has been taking care of her husband, Bob, as he wrestles with problematic knees. It's a particular problem, she said, because he has no use of his right arm after being injured in World War II.
"He can't hold crutches; he can't hold a walker. It's a problem we're trying to figure out, how to get those knees taken care of. ... They can lock on him, and it can cause falls."
Still living in Washington, she has maintained connections to North Carolina. The couple recently hosted key supporters from the N.C. Museum of History.
And outside home, Dole said she has traveled to several charities around North Carolina to offer funding from the Elizabeth Dole Charitable Foundation, including a Greenville food bank, a Wilson women's shelter, a Charlotte housing program, a Raleigh family assistance center and an orphanage in Matthews: "...those things where you can make a positive difference," she said.
She also follows the same issues she would be dealing with still if she had kept her Senate seat.
On health-care reform, Dole said that she's glad to see the public option dropped from the Senate bill but that she wants to see tort reform included.
"It's incredibly expensive," she said of the proposal. "It's still got a long way to go. You're always hopeful that some bipartisan compromise will come out of it, but there are still a lot of unknowns."
As President Barack Obama wrestles with whether to add more troops in Afghanistan, Dole, who served on the Armed Services Committee, said he should work with generals close to the action.
"There's a lot of people who would like to destroy our way of life, who would like to bring harm on us," Dole said. "If a Taliban were to really become predominant again and al-Qaida were to have a launching ground and a place to plan their activities, that would be disastrous. So we can't let it happen."
Dole said she's past last year's election, but she wouldn't rule out another run for office. She never thought she'd run for president, she pointed out, or for senator.
"I'm just going to leave it open," Dole said. "It's obviously finding those opportunities to make a difference."
Today, Dole said, she'll focus on the World War II veterans she is hosting in Washington. She flew down to Salisbury to be with her sister-in-law, Thelma "Bunny" Hanford, for the trip. The women were scheduled to start the drive from Salisbury at 5:30 a.m. today to catch the flight from Charlotte.
"It will be very emotional," Dole said of the trip. "My sister-in-law, already the two of us, as we talk it through, get emotional just thinking about it."