Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dole Quits Senate to Focus on Campaign

WASHINGTON -- In a dramatic gesture, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole resignedWednesday from the Senate seat he held for 27 years to focus full-time on his tough campaign against President Bill Clinton.

"My time to leave this office has come," Dole said Wednesday afternoon in a stunning announcement at his Senate office.

"As the campaign for the presidency begins in earnest, it is my obligation -- to the Senate and to the people of America -- to leave behind all the trappings of power, all comfort and all security," the 72-year-old politician said. "I will then stand before you without office or authority, a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man."

A senior Republican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dole first raised the idea of resigning several weeks ago as his campaign searched for a strategy to whittle Clinton's strong lead and prevent Senate Democrats from throwing legislative obstacles in Dole's way.

Other options included simply stepping aside from his day-to-day duties as majority leader or resigning that post outright but keeping his Senate seat and the platform it offers him.

"But he decided that it was time to completely focus on making the case against Bill Clinton and that staying in the Senate in any way would give the Clinton White House the opportunity to blur the issues by throwing legislative stumbling blocks in front of him," the official said.

This official, and another Republican source, said Dole decided that resigning from the Senate would give him an opportunity to, in effect, re-launch his campaign, and frame his decision in the context of his hardscrabble upbringing in Russell, Kansas, and his service in World War II.

"This is consistent with the Dole story of realizing when you face a tough fight that you have to give it 100 percent," said the Republican official.

Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott, the lawmaker in line to step into Dole's leadership post, said Dole had "never indicated to me" he was going to resign.

"I assumed that he was going to go on out and campaign and keep the position and the Senate seat," Lott told reporters.

Friction among Lott and other Dole leadership deputies is one reason Dole has been reluctant to relinquish his duties as majority leader.

With polls showing Clinton with a comfortable lead -- as much as 20 points in some surveys -- Republican leaders have been urging Dole to reinvigorate his campaign.

Clinton aides were caught off guard by Dole's unexpected decision. For weeks, the focus in Washington has been on an unprecedented race pitting a sitting president against a Senate majority leader of the opposition political party.

The last Senate leader to seek the presidency, then-Republican Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee, temporarily stepped aside to run in the 1980 primaries, but without resigning. After withdrawing from the race after disappointing showings, Baker immediately returned to his Senate post.