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Former Sen. Bob Dole, the failed Republican presidential candidate in 1996, himself became a bone of contention yesterday in the increasingly testy exchanges between Republican presidential contenders John McCain andMitt Romney.

The tit-for-tat began with Mr. Dole coming to the aid of Mr. McCain, a fellow war hero and one-time Senate colleague, in a letter to conservative radio talk-show hostRush Limbaugh, who has relentlessly criticized the front-running Arizona senator as insufficiently conservative.

Before long, Mr. McCain was demanding Mr. Romney apologize for disparaging Mr. Dole.

Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he had nothing to apologize for, but he tried from his campaign plane to phone Mr. Dole anyway.

Asked about Mr. Dole’s letter on the Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” yesterday, Mr. Romney, who has tried to portray himself as a genuine conservative alternative to Mr. McCain, responded: “It’s probably the last person I would have wanted write a letter for me. I think there’s a lot of folks who tend to think that maybe John McCain’s race is bit like Bob Dole’s race. That it’s the guy who’s next in line, the inevitable choice.”

Mr. Limbaugh spent a large part of his radio program yesterday criticizing Mr. McCain over the Dole letter. “I’m sorry, Senator McCain, I think what you are doing here is disgraceful,” he said. “How in the world is what Governor Romney said a nasty attack on a veteran? What your campaign is doing, Senator McCain, is manipulating Bob Dole, a war hero.”

$63,000 fine

A New York congressman has agreed to pay a $63,000 fine to settle a federal election probe into campaign expenditures for a personal trainer, clothing and cell-phone accessories.

Federal Election Commission officials said yesterday the campaign fund for New York Democratic Rep. Gregory W. Meeks also used political donations for undocumented credit card expenses and vehicle expenses.

The FEC said Mr. Meeks agreed to pay back his campaign committee $9,812 for vehicle expenses and $6,230 spent on a personal trainer.

Mr. Meeks yesterday said the settlement involves accusations that arose four years ago when his campaign was “volunteer driven” and its “recordkeeping and reporting practices were not what they should have been.”

He said he decided to settle the investigation so his campaign could “put this matter behind it and keep moving forward.”

Ailing lawmaker

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat, was recovering in a Manhattan hospitalMonday after suffering a “minor coronary incident” at a campaign rally for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a spokesman said.

“She is feeling much better — resting and recovering and in good spirits,” said the 70-year-old congresswoman’s spokesman, Matthew Dennis.

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