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DOLE STEPS UP BATTLE, PUSHES WAR-HERO IMAGE

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is promoting his image as a war hero in a new campaign effort calculated to trip up his Republican presidential rivals on the issue of military service, observers say.

Following a surprisingly poor showing in Saturday's Iowa straw poll, the front-runner for the GOP nomination has made campaign appearances at annual meetings of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Guard in recent days.Dole, a World War II veteran, will speak next month in Indianapolis before the national convention of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group.

"I'm going to contact as many veterans as I can across this country, because I think we have something in common: We love America," he said this week in Georgia.

Long viewed as the clear leader among nine Republican presidential hopefuls, Dole suffered a near upset in Iowa when Texas Senator Phil Gramm wrestled him to straw poll stalemate with roughly 24 percent of the vote. Television commentator Pat Buchanan was close behind with 18 percent.

All three are hawks on defense. But unlike Dole, who was severely wounded 50 years ago in Italy, Gramm avoided military service through college draft deferments during the Vietnam War. Buchanan was ruled ineligible for service in the same conflict because of a knee injury.

Analysts believe Dole's appeal to the 27 million American veterans - 45 percent of whom served in Word War II and Korea - could serve him well in the South, where he faces his toughest challenge from Gramm.