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President Clinton won a major victory over a key Republican proposal when the House sustained his veto of legislation that would limit damage awards in defective-product lawsuits.

The stakes were high, because special interests lobbied furiously and spent lavishly on both sides, and Sen. Bob Dole - Clinton's presumptive opponent in November - has sharply criticized the president's position.The vote Thursday was 258-163 in favor of overriding Clinton's objections. The affirmative total fell 23 votes short of the two-thirds needed to enact a law over the president's veto. A veto override also would have required the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

Thirty-three Democrats supported the override and five Republicans voted to uphold Clinton.

The winners of the highly partisan battle were trial lawyers and consumer groups; the losers were corporate interests.

In rejecting the bill, Clinton said it would do little to improve the legal system but "would mean more unsafe products in our homes. It would let wrongdoers off the hook."