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Tuesday, January 5, 1999 Published at 14:41 GMT

World: Americas

Elizabeth Dole steps closer to presidential bid

Dole said she was quitting the Red Cross to consider "exciting possibilities"

Bridget Kendall: She is possibly the best candidate the Republicans have got
In 1996 many Washington insiders wondered why it was Bob Dole - not his wife Elizabeth - who was running for president. Now may be her chance.

Elizabeth Dole has resigned as head of the American Red Cross, a move that many see as a step towards a bid for the presidency in 2000.

BBC Correspondent Nick Bryant: The only woman in US history to have held two cabinet posts
In her resignation speech, however, the wife of the former Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole stressed that she had yet to make a final decision about whether to seek her party's presidential nomination.

"I've not made definite plans about what I will do next," she told hundreds of Red Cross employees in Washington.

But the 62-year-old did hint at her aspirations: "Soon I will begin considering new paths and there are exciting possibilities. I will choose one and pursue it with all my might."

Florist's daughter

Mrs Dole, who was born to a prosperous flower wholesaler in North Carolina, studied law at Harvard University.

She joined a private practice in Washington for a short time before launching her government career in the health department.

Unorthodox for her generation, she waited until she was 39 to marry.

The Doles were married in 1975, three years after meeting to discuss the "southern strategy" for the Republican presidential race when Bob Dole was the party's national chairman.

Mrs Dole became president of the American Red Cross in 1991.

She took a year's leave of absence in 1995 to help her husband's presidential bid. Mr Dole was defeated by Bill Clinton in the 1996 election.

[ image: Mrs Dole helped her husband's presidential campaign]
Mrs Dole helped her husband's presidential campaign
Her performance at the 1996 Republican Convention, where she waded into the audience with a microphone in a way which broke new ground in political speech-making, won her widespread praise.

Mrs Dole is the only woman in American history to have held two cabinet posts, under Ronald Reagan as transportation secretary and George Bush as labour secretary.

She has been widely expected to seek the Republican party's nomination for the race next year, and has consistently scored highly in public opinion polls as a potential candidate.

Devoutely religious, Mrs Dole spends 30 minutes a day reading the Bible.

Observers say Mrs Dole's strong religious and traditional family values could work as an antidote to the scandal-plagued term of President Clinton.

If nominated, she would be the first woman to fight a presidential election in the US.

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