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Taking a clear step toward a race for the Republican nomination for president in 1996, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas said Tuesday that he had instructed his advisers to seek commitments from political strategists and fund-raisers around the country before other candidates locked them up.

Dole emphasized that he had not decided whether to run. But he said he gave the go-ahead for his advisers to move quickly because he did not want other contenders to get an edge in building organizations, as happened in his bid to wrest the Republican nomination from then Vice President George Bush in 1988.While he has not assembled a preliminary campaign operation, and has described the contacts with strategists as informal, Dole's political action committee, Campaign America, has hired more than a half-dozen field workers in important primary states, including Iowa and New Hampshire.

"Whether or not I do it, you've got to be prepared," Dole said in a telephone interview. "If you're going to get into this thing, you ought not wait until after next year."

As the Senate Republican leader and the most visible Republican in the country, Dole would be viewed as an instant front-runner, particularly since no strong challenger has emerged from the field of Republicans who are considering taking on President Clinton.

Echoing Dole, his advisers said in interviews that he had not made a decision, but several said they believed that he would probably run.

Dole, 70, said he would decide in February and emphasized that he was far from assembling a formal campaign structure. But he has maintained his network of support though travels around the country for Campaign America on behalf of other candidates.

"We're not out trying to lasso any big fund-raisers, though I've thought of it," he said. "We have a few field men. It's all part of being prepared. I'm not totally naive about all this stuff."

The efforts to build an informal network that could become a presidential campaign are being led by a handful of close advisers, including Tom Synhorst and William B. Lacy, both top officials in Dole's 1988 presidential campaign.