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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Butt Man' Stalks Dole, Lightens Serious Race

LOS ANGELES -- You've heard of the political yes-man, now meet Butt Man. Or rather, don't meet Butt Man.


At the Democratic National Committee in Washington, the identity of the Shaquille O'Neal-sized cigarette that follows Bob Dole is a closely guarded secret.


"For now,'' said Amy Weiss Tobe at DNC headquarters, "we've decided not to reveal anything about Butt Man.''


This message cannot have been easy for Weiss Tobe to deliver. She is accustomed to fielding questions about social policy. She probably did not attend college so she could fend off curiosity about a 2.10-meter-tall, foam rubber cigarette.


But Butt Man's relentless presence at a series of appearances by Republican presidential candidate Dole has fanned the flames of fascination.


"A group of people came up with the idea,'' Weiss Tobe confided. It was clear that she would have preferred discussing soybean legislation or anything other than a guy in a coffin-nail costume.


In fact, how do we know Butt Man is a man, anyway? And, if Butt Man is a woman, what is the politically correct way to address her?


Butt Man sprang into existence last month after Dole announced that for some people, tobacco was not necessarily addictive. Dole, a former smoker, made this pronouncement in tobacco-growing Kentucky.


Dole amplified his views on smoking -- sort of -- on NBC-TV's "The Today Show." "There is a mixed view among scientists and doctors whether it's addictive or not. I'm not certain whether it's addictive. It is to some people,'' he said.


In Birmingham, Alabama., Dole made Butt Man the happiest pretend cigarette in the world when he declared, "We know it's not good for kids [to smoke], but a lot of things aren't good. Drinking's not good; some would say milk's not good.''


For Butt Man, such remarks were lighted matches. Soon he, or she, was everywhere Dole was. The cigarette was spotted distributing phony dollar bills featuring "Smokin' Bob Dole.'' At the Fourth of July parade in Wheaton, Illinois, Butt Man rode on the Democratic party's float.


The cigarette descends from a tradition of political stunts. In the 1992 presidential race, an enormous chicken became a fixture at President Bush's campaign stops after Bush temporarily refused to debate then-Governor Bill Clinton. But far from an annoyance, former Bush campaign consultant Mary Matalin said Chicken George became an endearing figure. If by chance the chicken was missing, Bush invariably expressed disappointment.


True, Chicken George did gobble up way too much media attention, especially when it got arrested and when it was stuck in a phone booth, Matalin said. But she maintained, Chicken George represented the lighter side of a political process that these days is better known for its meanness than its sense of humor.


Politics is juvenile on a good day, so what could be undignified about a gigantic chicken or a big cigarette? Matalin opined.


"I think Butt Man is pretty funny,'' she said. "In fact, it's given the Dole campaign a chance to get off some pretty good lines.''