Mr Dole was the clear winner in a straw poll at a ritual gathering of party members in Des Moines on Friday. Several of those hoping for an early boost from the meeting - Mr Clinton is not half-way through his term - made personal appearances. Mr Dole, however, stayed away.
Although of limited real significance, the results of the quadrennial Iowa poll traditionally give Republicans a glimpse of what the party's line-up the next time around is likely to be. Mr Dole, the leader of the Senate Republicans, came on top with 27 per cent, followed by Lamar Alexander, the former education secretary, with 15 per cent, Texan Senator Phil Gramm with 15 per cent and the former housing secretary, Jack Kemp, with 12 per cent.
The event was overshadowed by tensions between the moderate elements of the party and those of the Christian right whose power has been steadily growing. In recent weeks Christian-backed candidates have advanced in several states, including Oliver North in Virginia, and in Texas Christian activists have taken over the party.
The President himself, meanwhile, has launched a counter-attack against conservative activists for using the air waves to slander himself and the First Lady. One video-tape promoted by the Rev Jerry Falwell includes allegations that Mr Clinton arranged the murder of an Arkansas investigator who was killed by unknown assailants last year.
Phoning in himself to a talk show airing in St Louis on Friday, Mr Clinton denounced the 'scurrilous and false charges'.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is not hesitating to exploit Republican divisions.