PHILADELPHIA — Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the front-running Republican presidential candidate, told Republican leaders meeting here Saturday he would be "another Ronald Reagan" if chosen to face President Clinton in the 1996 election.
But two other candidates, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, took potshots at Dole, trying to knock him off his leading pace at the closing session of the three-day summer conference of the Republican National Committee.
Alexander suggested the age of the Senate Republican leader, who turns 72 next week, was an inhibiting factor. Gramm said Dole backs a weak welfare reform plan that does not live up to Republican promises.
While Clinton came under concentrated fire during the meeting of 165 party leaders, Republicans were warned not to take him lightly, that he would not be a cinch to beat.
For his part, Dole mostly ignored other candidates and concentrated on attacking Clinton and claiming that as a veteran congressional leader and the only World War II veteran, he is a "tested leader who can lead the party."
Clinton "provides no leadership on foreign policy," Dole said, contending the Bosnia crisis could have been averted if sanctions against Bosnia had been lifted last year, as Dole sought.
The Senate leader also promised to emulate Reagan, who was President for eight years.
"I'm willing to be another Ronald Reagan if that's what you want me to be," Dole said.
"I'll be another Ronald Reagan," he said. "I'll do the best I can to rein in the federal government, to reconnect the government with the values of average Americans, to reassert our national prestige around the world."
In an interview broadcast later Saturday, Dole said retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George Bush, was on his "short list" of running mates.
Powell has not clearly indicated whether he is interested in running, nor has he indicated whether he is a Republican or Democrat.
Alexander, 55, suggested Dole was too old, without mentioning him by name. Dole would be the oldest President ever inaugurated. He would be 73 in January, 1997.
"I'm thinking about the ability to paint the picture of the future, the energy, the skills and the vision to implement the Republican agenda," he said.
Alexander said the contest will boil down to him and Dole. He said there were only four viable candidates who have raised enough money to compete in primaries next year: Dole, Gramm, California Gov. Pete Wilson and himself.
Alexander warned Clinton would be strong.
"We should remember that our nominee is most likely to be running against the best Democratic politician of the last 25 years," Alexander said. "We should never underestimate Bill Clinton."
Gramm said the Dole-backed welfare reform legislation making its way through the Senate "does not get the job done" because it "deals with only 7% of all welfare programs."
Gramm's package puts Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps and housing assistance into block grants to the states. It would deny any welfare payments to immigrants, even if they are legal immigrants, for five years after they enter the country.
Another candidate, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a fiscal moderate but social liberal, asked the party to remove the strong anti-abortion plank from the party platform.
Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove, a long-shot candidate, said Clinton's plan to normalize relations with Vietnam "betrayed the people of Vietnam."
On Friday, commentator Patrick J. Buchanan proclaimed himself the "authentic conservative" in the field and dubbed Gramm a "bogus" pretender.
But Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana said that in trying to outdo one another on "wedge issues" such as abortion and affirmative action, his rivals seem "almost oblivious" to positioning the party for a broader appeal.