Dole prepares for presidential race

Sounding ever more like a Presidential candidate, Senate majority leader Bob Dole yesterday announced he had formed an exploratory committee for the 1996 campaign - traditionally the last step short of a formal candidacy for the White House.

In a brief statement, Mr Dole, 71, thanked his supporters for their "outpouring of support," and promised a final decision within three months. But after yesterday there seemed little doubt what that decision would be. Mr Dole's one drawback is his age. If elected he would be 73 in 1997, the oldest President ever to take office.

But he has money, high name recognition and strong approval ratings. Long regarded as too acerbic and mean spirited for the White House, he is now the clear Republican front runner for 1996 - an avuncular and moderate elder statesman of the party in comparison with Newt Gingrich and his brash conservative cohorts in the House. In theoretical match-ups with Mr Clinton, Mr Dole is invariably a comfortable winner.

Meanwhile, the White House has moved to lay to rest speculation over the future of Warren Christopher by saying that President Clinton wanted his Secretary of State to stay on in the job "indefinitely".

For all the criticism which has been heaped upon the often uninspiring Mr Christopher, the vote of confidence from his boss makes ample sense. US foreign policy has been reasonably successful of late.

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