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Dole Moves Closer To A Run

Elizabeth Dole will announce the formation of an exploratory committee next week looking toward the Republican presidential nomination, aides said Thursday.

Mrs. Dole has visited Iowa and New Hampshire since announcing she was leaving her job as head of the American Red Cross, and she had hinted strongly she would form an exploratory committee, a typical first step toward getting in the race.

The announcement will come at an event in Des Moines on Wednesday, said spokesman David Reddig.

"Obviously an exploratory committee is when you really have the opportunity to do real fund-raising," Dole said during her most recent swing in Iowa.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush announced this week that he was forming such a committee.

Most polls have shown Bush and Dole atop the field of GOP contenders, but rivals suggest that is simply because they have familiar names.

However, Dole will be a serious contender. She got rave reviews for her speech to the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996, she campaigned hard for husband Bob Dole and she has more national political experience than many of those eyeing the nomination.

In addition, she likely can tap into a Republican fund-raising network.

Dole joins a large and growing field of Republicans moving toward formal declarations of candidacy. Among Democrats, Vice President Al Gore has formed an exploratory committee and faces a challenge only from former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley so far.

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