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GOP race dwindling down to Dole // STRAGGLERS

They might need a new nickname for "Super Tuesday," the day next week that Florida and six other states will hold their Republican presidential primaries.

Maybe it should be "Considerably Reduced In Drama" Tuesday.

Or, "Hey, Wait for US!" Tuesday.

Lamar Alexander and Richard Lugar pulled out of the race Wednesday and endorsed Bob Dole, the day after Dole won eight state primaries.

Dole, his back perhaps sore from being slapped by all the come-latelys who endorsed him Wednesday, is favored to win the huge New York primary today. His two main remaining rivals are Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes.

So the states scheduled to vote on Super Tuesday, March 12 _ Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee _ might be relegated to the role of ratifying Dole as the party nominee.

Still, Florida Republicans mused Wednesday, that's better than having no role at all.

"It takes a little bit of the luster off it," said Randy Enwright, executive director of the Florida Republican Party.

"But the fact is, Forbes and Buchanan are staying in the race. We'll be the ones to say if Dole really does walk away with it."

Enwright said Dole appeared to have a strong lead in the state, with Buchanan's support staying about the same or even eroding.

"The real unknown here is Forbes, because he has done absolutely nothing organizationally," Enwright said. "If he buys a bunch of TV in the next few days, maybe he can cut into" Dole's lead.

Leaders of the Alexander campaign in Florida said they expected most of his support to go to Dole. In a poll last week, Alexander was in third place in the state: Dole, 37 percent; Buchanan, 23; Alexander, 18.

"They won't go to Buchanan," said Phil Handy of Winter Park, chairman of Alexander's Florida campaign. "Some of them may go to Forbes, because Forbes is sort of the last major outsider in the race.

"But the bulk of Alexander's supporters would probably go to Dole."

The Dole bandwagon in Florida was filling up with the endorsement of Jeb Bush, the Republican candidate for governor in 1994, and the expected endorsement of Connie Mack, the state's junior U.S. senator. Mack will campaign today with Dole in Miami, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

A total of 362 delegates to the Republican National Convention will be at stake in the Super Tuesday states, making it the biggest day of voting in the race so far. That's more than a third of the 996 Dole needs to win the nomination.

Florida will award 98 of those delegates _ 3 delegates to the winner of each of the state's 23 congressional districts, and a bonus pool of 29 that will go to the statewide top vote-getter.

Home to Nashville

Clearwater has the distinction of being the place where Alexander decided to end his campaign. He did it at the Belleview Mido Resort Hotel, after seeing Tuesday night's election returns and consulting with his wife and closest supporters in a telephone conference call.

Only two weeks before, the former governor of Tennessee had finished a respectable third in the New Hampshire primary. The week before that, he had finished third in the Iowa caucuses. He was in the race.

Alexander had called himself a fresh alternative to Dole, a Republican who really would transfer power out of Washington and back to the states.

But Alexander had to put most of his eggs in three baskets: Iowa, New Hampshire and a Florida straw poll last November in Orlando where he also finished third.

When Arizona and the Dakotas voted on Feb. 27, Alexander did not commit the resources to campaign. When South Carolina weighed in last Saturday, the momentum turned convincingly to Dole. Tuesday's eight-state sweep, including Georgia, was the last straw.

"In those places where people got to see him, he did well," Handy said. "But after that, there was a huge premium on money and name I.D., and we didn't have either until about 2{ weeks ago."

Mel Sembler of St. Petersburg, Alexander's national finance co-chairman, was with the candidate Tuesday night when the decision to quit was made. "He was just being realistic," Sembler said.

Although Alexander was raising money successfully after Iowa and New Hampshire, his poor showing Tuesday probably would have dried up the flow, Sembler said.

"I am convinced that we had the best finance team in the country," Sembler said. "We raised $15-million for a guy that nobody had ever heard of outside of Tennessee."

Sembler said that in the conference call, many of Alexander's supporters encouraged him to run again in 2000. Alexander made no promises.

Alexander flew back to Nashville Wednesday morning and announced his decision to pull out at 1 p.m. "I am here to congratulate Sen. Dole and extend my full support," he told his supporters.

Alexander said he would turn down an offer to be the nominee's running mate: "I wouldn't be a very good second fiddle. I don't expect to be asked."

Never a factor

Lugar, a U.S. senator from Indiana, was a paradox in the 1996 race. Many people considered him one of the best-qualified candidates, but he was never a factor at the polls.

He had run a family farm and business. He had served on his school board. He had been mayor of Indianapolis. He had been a well-regarded senator since his election in 1976, with considerable experience on the Agriculture and Foreign Relations committees.

Lugar's campaign speeches were serious and issue-oriented. He criticized negative commercials and sloganeering. He was high-minded and even-handed throughout, and it got him few votes.

"I know now that I will not be the Republican Party nominee for president in 1996," Lugar said at a Washington news conference, calling Dole "the apparent nominee."

Lugar has often been mentioned as a possible Cabinet secretary in a Republican administration. He turned aside questions of being vice president or secretary of state, but when asked if he would be interested in the Department of Agriculture, he smiled and said, "Now you're getting warm."

_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.