CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. Bob Dole shed the overalls of a Midwestern pragmatist and slipped into the cloak of a hard-line conservative Tuesday for his debut as the new hot number in the Republican presidential marathon.
With Dole's impressive victory in the Iowa caucuses, the campaign focus shifted east for the key primary here Feb. 16. The change in scenery brought a shift in tone.
In Iowa, where many Republicans had wearied of President Reagan following years of economic crisis on the farms, Dole preached moderation and compassion for the downtrodden. But in prosperous New England, where Reagan remains popular, Dole's message Tuesday sounded more Reagan than Reagan.
Addressing a joint session of the Republican-dominated state Legislature here, Dole spoke with passion of the greatness of America, the evils of communism and the need for a strong defense.
Strong 'Star Wars' Support
He hardened his support for Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as "Star Wars," and pledged never to bargain away the space-based defense system in arms control talks. "I will develop SDI, I will test SDI, I will deploy SDI," he pledged, winning a round of applause.
In Iowa, where peace groups are strong even in some Republican circles, Dole stressed his support of the intermediate nuclear force treaty recently concluded with the Soviets. Here, he sounded a cautionary note, warning that "the headlong rush" toward new arms treaties "may put us on strategic thin ice."
He also attacked as a "grievous strategic mistake" last week's vote in the Democrat-controlled House to block an Administration request for aid to the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua.
"The House of Representatives may be willing to throw in the towel on freedom, but Bob Dole isn't and America isn't," he said to more applause as he added a plea for private contributions to fund the Contras. Last week, Dole wrote a personal check for $500 to a Contra office in Washington. A spokesman said Dole marked the check: "For humanitarian aid only."
Dole denied that he had altered his message to fit his audience, but there was no denying the change in mood of his campaign.
"It just shows you what a difference eight years makes," Dole said, beaming during a charter flight to snowy New England on a purple aircraft oddly named "Bahamas Express." When Dole ran for President in 1980 he finished last in the Iowa balloting, which was carried by Bush.
Polls have given Bush a healthy lead in New Hampshire, but Dole strategists hope the victory in Iowa can close the gap.
Hopes to Clinch Nomination
Former Labor Secretary William E. Brock III, Dole's national campaign chairman, suggested that a New Hampshire victory could clinch the nomination for Dole.
"We'd like to complete the nomination process next Tuesday night," Brock said.
Despite the surprising second-place finish in Iowa of television evangelist Pat Robertson, it was clear the Dole camp still had its sights on Bush as the primary target. Dole praised Robertson's showing as a "remarkable" organizational feat. But backers of the senator stressed that Robertson lacked the breadth of support necessary to carry him to victory nationwide.
"I don't think the evangelical movement in New Hampshire . . . is that broad," said Sen. Warren B. Rudman, Dole's campaign chairman in this state. "And I don't think you can do in a primary, where you have to register and you have to get involved in the system (what you can do) in a caucus state, where anybody can walk in and become a part of the system."
Brock said he had no intention of "taking any campaign lightly," including Robertson's. But Brock said that Robertson suffered from one of Bush's flaws. "Now there were some questions about how electable George would be in November," Brock said. "Others would ask the same questions about Pat Robertson. So the party has to look to decide who do you want in the White House, and are you sure you can get him there."