Nancy Reagan attacked Oliver North, the Republican Senate candidate in Virginia, asserting that the former aide to President Ronald Reagan "lied to my husband and lied about my husband."
North ducked the barb Friday, saying, "My mom told me a long time ago, "Never get in a fight with a lady.' "
Much of the Republican establishment has reluctantly rallied around North in the last four months, but former President Reagan has made no comment since a letter in March in which he said that North, his former National Security Council aide, had made "false statements" about the Iran-Contra affair. "I'm getting pretty steamed about the statements coming from Oliver North," Reagan wrote.
Mrs. Reagan was asked about North during an appearance with Charlie Rose, the PBS talk-show host, on Thursday night at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
"Ollie North _ oh, I'll be happy to tell you about Ollie North," Mrs. Reagan said. "Ollie North has a great deal of trouble separating fact from fantasy."
Pausing for applause and laughter, she continued, "and he lied to my husband and lied about my husband _ kept things from him he should not have kept from him. And that's what I think of Ollie North."
The former president's office, in Los Angeles, said Friday that neither of the Reagans had additional comment to offer on North.
Paul Goldman, a media adviser to North's Democratic opponent, Sen. Charles S. Robb, said of the Reagans' comments: "Oliver North comes with a warning label. These are people who already were taken in by him."
North has said that he was following orders from his superiors in 1985 and 1986 when he orchestrated the plan to supply arms secretly to the Contras, the rebels who opposed the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The plan remained a secret until 1986.
At a news conference in Washington before appearing at a rally in this suburb, North said, "Nothing is going to change the fact that I believe Ronald Reagan is the greatest president in my lifetime _ may well be the greatest president this nation ever had."
In two recent polls, North was in a statistical tie with Robb. "Do I look hurt to you?" North said Friday. "I look ahead in the polls. I don't think any of this stuff is going to hurt me."
But much of the campaign's energy, especially in the last three weeks, has been consumed by corrections and clarifications of North's statements and by responses to volleys like that of Mrs. Reagan. North's campaign said his polls showed that he had not been hurt.
Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, "I think there is a little bit of a backlash in Virginia.
"After a while, the voter says, "They're going to pound on this guy no matter what he says, and I'm sick of it.' "
But Barbour's party has been divided by North's candidacy. Pete McCloskey, a former marine who was a Republican representative from California from 1968 to 1982, said Friday in a statement: "Oliver North failed to do his duty as a Marine. He dishonored his uniform, and he betrayed his country. Oliver North's only absolute commitment is to himself and his ambitions.
"North wraps himself in the flag, but betrays the Republic for which it stands," McCloskey said.
In reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, North said he had raised $17-million and had $845,000 left to spend. Robb has raised $4.5-million and has $567,000 left to spend. J. Marshall Coleman, an independent who is the third candidate in the race, has raised $434,000 and has $207,000 left to spend.