Lead Crumbling, Dole Goes on Attack

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire -- With polls showing his frontrunner status eroding, Republican Bob Dole has gone on the attack, unleashing a series of television ads calling closest rival Pat Buchanan "too extreme" to be president.

The Dole move came as a daily ABC poll Wednesday showed both men in a statistical dead heat for first place in next week's first-in-the-nation presidential primary -- a contest that has destroyed many a White House dream.

"President Buchanan? ... He's too extreme. He can't beat Bill Clinton," said the ad blaring across New Hampshire television stations.

It zeroed in on comments by Buchanan denigrating a woman's ability to be a leader and a call by him to give Taiwan, South Korea and Japan nuclear weapons as signs of his extremism.

The ads seemed to signal a new determination by the 72-year-old senator not to let the New Hampshire primary destroy his presidential hopes for a third time in 16 years.

But Buchanan punched back with jibes at Dole, calling him "Mr. NAFTA, Mr. GATT, Mr. Mexican Bailout" -- all trade programs that Buchanan detests.

With the withdrawal of Texas Senator Phil Gramm from the race Wednesday, the remaining eight candidates meet in a debate Thursday night, an occasion that might show some sparks flying between Dole and Buchanan, who see the race as a two-man contest.

Because of the debate, the Republican candidates planned light campaigns during the day.

While Dole went on the attack, millionaire publisher Steve Forbes, criticized for spending millions of dollars on negative ads in the Iowa caucuses, was showing a kinder, gentler face.

He pulled his negative ads and replaced them with folksy upbeat ones, showing him with his family and touting his message of economic growth through a flat tax.

The reason -- everyone from his opponents to a 10-year-old schoolgirl who personally confronted him did not like those ads.

"I spent too much time in Iowa talking about my opponents and their strategies and not enough time talking about myself," he said.

It may be too late. The ABC poll showed the once-rising political star fading fast -- dropping eight points in less than a week.

Forbes's misfortune may be aiding former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, who had a campaign stumble of his own Wednesday. He was unable to answer a question about the price of a dozen eggs and a jug of milk. His explanation was that he is not out of touch with ordinary Americans -- he just doesn't eat eggs and doesn't know what milk costs in New Hampshire.

While the candidates fought among themselves, they were careful not to do anything to offend supporters of Gramm, who withdrew from the race after spending $25 million only to finish fifth in Monday's Iowa caucuses.

The polls showed Gramm garnering between 3 percent and 5 percent of the vote and the Texan said, "When the voter speaks I listen, especially when the voter is saying someone else's name."