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DOLE'S IN - VOWS TO RETURN U.S. TO `HER PLACE IN THE SUN'

Offering himself as "tempered by adversity, seasoned by experience," Sen. Bob Dole launched his third presidential campaign Monday vowing to cut taxes, balance the budget and "lead America back to her place in the sun."

Dole, the Senate majority leader and early GOP front-runner, broke with his longtime tradition of returning home to Russell and instead formally declared his candidacy in Topeka, the Kansas capital, as a symbol of his pledge to shift authority over schools, welfare and a host of other issues back to the states."My mandate as president would be to rein in the federal government in order to set free the spirit of the American people; to reconnect our government in Washington with the common-sense values of our citizens; and to reassert America's interest wherever and whenever they are challenged around the world," Dole said, speaking at a rally moved indoors because of cold and rain.

Only three times in history have sitting senators won the White House. And Dole, now 71, will be 73 by the time the 1996 election rolls around, an age at which only Ronald Reagan has been elected president, in his case to a second term. But Dole, one of the most enduring, familiar and adaptable figures in recent American political history, opened his campaign with an optimistic spirit.

"My friends, I have the experience," Dole said. "I've been tested, tested in many ways. I am not afraid to lead and I know the way."

From Topeka, Dole was heading Monday to New Hampshire and New York, beginning a weeklong, cross-country announcement tour designed to cement him as the clear front-runner for the 1996 Republican nomination.

As part of that effort, Dole sought to dispel any doubts that the new House GOP agenda - and perhaps his candidacy - would be derailed in the Senate. He eagerly embraced the agenda that helped Republicans to their stunning success in last year's elections: a balanced budget amendment, a line-item veto and welfare reform, all under the umbrella of dramatically shrinking Washington's power and restoring more authority to states and communities.

Dole never mentioned his Republican rivals, but heaped scorn on the man he hopes to evict from the White House. After being elected on a promise of bold change in 1992, Dole said President Clinton now was fighting at every turn to block the bolder change voters demanded last year when they gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in four decades.

And, on the global stage, Dole said Clinton has been far too willing to put U.S. interests second to those of the United Nations. "When we take our revolution to the White House in 1996, we will vow that American policies will be determined by us, not by the United Nations," he said.

Dole's morning began with a pre-announcement prayer breakfast, where he was given a solemn send off by his wife, Elizabeth Dole, the former labor secretary who now heads the American Red Cross.

"We still believe in beginning each new journey life brings with prayer," she said.

Dole is the sixth Republican candidate to formally declare a 1996 bid, joining Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, commentator Pat Buchanan and radio talk host Alan Keyes.

Conservative California Rep. Bob Dornan of California, plans to enter the race Thursday, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar's announcement is April 19. California Gov. Pete Wilson is likely to join the field in May.

By virtue of his prior national campaigns and Senate leadership post, Dole begins as the clear favorite, well ahead in early polls.