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Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole says that in formally declaring his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, he may announce he will seek only one term.

"I haven't ruled that out," Dole told interviewer David Frost in a report to be broadcast on public television Friday night.The move would give the 1996 race an unconventional and possibly controversial twist. Not since the 19th century has a candidate forsworn interest in a second term before being elected to his first, a presidential scholar said. James K. Polk (1845-49) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) promised to serve only one term and did.

"It might be something that would be the correct thing to do, the right thing to do, whether or not it would be the politic thing to do," Dole said. "But it's something we've talked about."

If elected, Dole would be 73 when inaugurated in 1997 and the oldest person ever to be sworn in for a first term. Ronald Reagan, the oldest person ever to serve as president, was 73 when he was sworn in to his second term. Were Dole to be elected to two terms, he would be 77 at his second inauguration in 2001.

Dole also said, however, that any concern about his age would be allayed by following him around on his busy Senate and political schedule for a few days.

Dole, in national polling, is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, a race expected to include Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and possibly former Vice President Dan Quayle as leading contenders.

Dole also cautioned Republicans: "Don't sell President Clinton short. He's smart. He's articulate. He's bright. He knows how to communicate."