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DOLE BACKERS SAY BUCHANAN HURTS GOP

Fresh from three lopsided Republican primary victories, Bob Dole is trying to shift the focus of his presidential campaign to his fall showdown with President Clinton.

But two of Dole's biggest backers did their part Tuesday to keep attention on the present by heaping criticism on his main GOP rival, commentator Pat Buchanan.Dole breezed to victory in Republican primaries in North Carolina, Indiana and the District of Columbia.

The Senate majority leader beat Buchanan 77 percent to 10 percent in the nation's capital, where a record low turnout - 9 percent of eligible voters - was recorded. And with nearly all the votes counted, Dole led Buchanan 72 percent to 13 percent in North Carolina and 71 percent to 19 percent in Indiana.

Clinton, who faced no major opposition, easily won all three Democratic contests.

Both Dole and Clinton locked up their nominations in mid-March. Since then, they have concentrated on the general election rather than the dwindling number of primaries, caucuses and conventions that remain.

Dole, looking to reduce Clinton's 20-point lead in some national polls, pushed his plan to temporarily cut the federal gas tax on Tuesday and portrayed Clinton as a tax-happy liberal.

"I believe when voters compare my common-sense fiscal conservatism with Bill Clinton's liberal record of tax hikes and increases in government spending, we will see another set of big Dole victories come Election Day, Nov. 5th," Dole said in a statement issued after Tuesday's voting ended.

But while Dole looked ahead to November, the co-chairman of his campaign said Buchanan and other conservatives are hurting the GOP by criticizing Republicans who favor raising the minimum wage or easing some abortion restrictions.

The campaign official, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., told ABC that Buchanan is helping portray the GOP as "the party that's uncaring for working middle-class families."

Another Dole backer, New York Gov. George Pataki, also bashed Buchanan.

Buchanan did not immediately respond, but has said he would stay in the race and continue to push a conservative agenda.

He has campaigned only sporadically since Dole clinched the nomination.