Dole campaign receives boost

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Senator Bob Dole has strengthened his position against a possible challenge from retired general Colin Powell by winning the backing of Governor Stephen Merrill of New Hampshire, where the first primary of the 1996 election will be held in just over three months.

Governor Merrill's move, which he may announce today, is a sign General Powell may not find the Republican nomination next year a pushover. Although the general is ahead of Mr Dole in the polls in New Hampshire, aligned against him now is the state's popular Republican Governor, whose endorsement has been sought by every candidate.

General Powell is due to reveal in the next fortnight if he will run. For him to win the nomination, victory in New Hampshire is all but essential. "This is an effort by Dole to scare Powell out of the race," one strategist said.

It would now be "very difficult for General Powell to put something together" in the state, said Vin Weber, a national chairman of the Dole campaign. Mr Merrill's support for Mr Dole will strengthen doubts about General Powell on the party's conservative wing.

Mr Dole's campaign has been immobilised by speculation about a Powell candidacy and undermined by growing doubts about his age. Were he to win the White House, he would be 73 on taking office.

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