Bob Dole's Wife Elizabeth Is a G.O.P. Sleeper: She Could Be a Ms. FDR or a Jackie-in-the-Box
If a chapter of Workaholics Anonymous is ever formed in Washington, Jerry Ford’s running mate, Kansas Sen. Robert Dole, 53, would be a logical contender for VP of that, too. The Presidency, though, would likely have been sewn up already by Mary Elizabeth (“Liddy”) Hanford, 40, a North Carolina-born Federal Trade Commissioner who, in odd off hours, is Mrs. Bob Dole. They were wed just last December, and as he told his Kansas constituents at the time, “If you missed me during 1975, I was campaigning in North Carolina.”
It was the first successful courtship campaign waged against Elizabeth Hanford. Dole, however, had just a couple of years before dissolved a 23-year marriage—though only after consultation on the political risks with, of all people, Richard Nixon and John Mitchell. It was that career obsession that made Dole a master politician but an impossible husband, in the view of his first wife.
Ideologically, his previous spouse was probably closer to Dole than Elizabeth, but her comparative liberalism could be a perfect complement. She is, in fact, a consumer advocate and a registered independent voter who once even served as a secretary on Lyndon Johnson’s whistle-stopping campaign in 1960. Recently she pressed for the antitrust legislation before Congress, while Dole fought against it. “We are both independent in carrying out our public responsibility,” she insists. At the time of her marriage there was jocular discussion of whether she should resign because of conflict of interest. But she remained in the $39,000 commissionership assigned to enforcement of antitrust laws, truth-in-lending regulations and fair-packaging rules. (Her old boss, Consumer Affairs Adviser Virginia Knauer, citing Elizabeth’s combination of beauty and brains, called her an example of deceptive packaging.)
“Liddy always had a goal,” remembers her mother back in Salisbury, N.C., and it wasn’t to be the queen of the Azalea Festival (though she was once entered). She won an oratory contest in grade school, but lost as the first girl to run for president of Boyden High. At Duke she made Phi Bete, then sailed through Harvard, where she earned both an M.A. in education and a law degree. By 37, she was on the FTC.
Dole admits that Elizabeth works harder even than he. She arises at 5:30 a.m. and is still reading piles of briefs at night when he’s goofing off watching TV. She likes to swim, ice-skate, ski and prepare Japanese food. She drinks wine but doesn’t smoke. A bit vain, she whips off her horn-rimmed glasses when pictures are taken. Friends doubt that they will have children because of their ambition.
She knew Dole for a year and a half before they married. “I was having too good a time,” she explains. At one point both she and Dole had apartments in Watergate 100 yards apart. Now they live in his and rent out hers. Despite her liberation, she still is very much the Southern woman—she has taken his surname and has even sold her car and now lets Dole drive her to the office. There’s talk that she may resign from the FTC to campaign for Bob. But no one doubts that sooner or later she’ll be back in some powerful post. Harking back to her father, a still-active florist wholesaler in his 80s, Liddy says, “My parents always wanted me to do my best—they wanted me to have a full, rich life.”