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Dole Eyes The White House

To music from the movie Top Gun, Elizabeth Dole emerged to announce she will officially explore gunning for the top job - president of the United States.

She announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on Wednesday, the first formal step toward a possible run for president.

A Dole supporter subtly raised the issue of presidential character: "We need you as president, so I can turn on my television, see you and say to my kids, 'You need to be just like that,'" the woman told Dole.

Those pushing Dole to run believe the Clinton sex and ethics mess has now made it possible for a woman to be elected president. Dole, herself, hinted at the scandal in a campaign ad released Wednesday.

"If I run, this will be why. I believe our people are looking for leaders who will call America to her better nature. Yes, we've been let down and by people we should have been able to look up to," Dole said.

On Wednesday, in a small room and with a small crowd, Dole bragged about her experience serving five presidents, but claimed she is not a politician.

Her husband, Bob Dole, the presidential nominee last time, was back in Washington at a hearing on Kosovo. She never mentioned him as she talked about herself and the issues.

"It's time for tax relief," she said. "The defense budget is too low, we've got to get it up."

But before her solutions on these matters - there are more immediate issues for Dole.

"You know this is real important, we've got to raise that money... That's a big chore now," she said.

In fact, six Republicans are holding off formally announcing their candidacies. And while they claim they are looking for voters, they're really looking for donors.

Only three have already decided to run. Rich man Steve Forbes will be his own donor. As for the Democrats, Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley are running - just not officially.

Based on the polls, Dole is considered a real contender, coming within 10 percentage points of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Dole has been working inside the national Republican apparatus for years. In 1976, she ran her first national campaign, at her husband's side, when he was picked as the party's vice presidential nominee. During this period, she developed close links to the moderate wing of the GOP.

Dole has headed the Federal Trade Commission, served as secretaries of labor and transportation and been president of the American Red Cross. Some strategists argue that her Red Cross background insulates her from charges often hurled at Republicans that the party lacks compassion.

Her enviable record of fund-raising for the Red Cross also is considered an asset by party leaders.

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