WHERE DO THE Republican presidential candidates stand on Oliver North? Dan Rather said last week that he had telegrams promoting a Jack Kemp-Oliver North ticket, and Bob Dole at the Young Republicans conference last weekend in Seattle asked -- "jokingly," a spokesman insists -- "What would you think of a Dole-North ticket?" The audience, full of enthusiasm for the colonel, cheered, and most of the Republican candidates have been similarly upbeat about Col. North. But we note that all references to Col. North on the national ticket still put him in second place.

George Bush, because of his work on antiterrorism policy, seems to have had closer contact with Oliver North than any of the other Republicans. He called Col. North Nov. 25, when he was fired, and "wished him well," but said that he and Adm. Poindexter should have waived the Fifth Amendment and testified before the intelligence committees. Just before the North testimony began, however, he insisted that "North is going to come out far better than some of his severest critics."

Mr. Bush's enthusiasm is exceeded, it appears, by some of his competitors'. Jack Kemp, who was eagerly defending the president when the Iran-contra story broke in November, now feels that the North testimony provides stronger support for the president and the contras than they have received for years -- an inferential criticism, we think, of the president and of other contra aid supporters, including Mr. Kemp himself. Paul Laxalt sees Col. North as, in Mr. Reagan's words, "a national hero," a man who has risked his life for his country and who has provided the clearest articulation of the contra aid policy. Pat Robertson, who was once briefed by Col. North, phoned him after he was fired and told him he'd gotten "a raw deal." As for "that little arms caper," Mr. Robertson said on his 700 Club broadcast last winter, "North wouldn't have done anything except under orders."

Standing back and taking a more cautious stand have been Bob Dole and Pete du Pont. As Senate Republican leader, Mr. Dole was instrumental in setting up the special Senate committee and in choosing its members. Earlier this month he described Col. North as "a loose cannon," but, mixing the metaphor, predicted "no smoking gun." Mr. du Pont, a vehement supporter of contra aid, said last week that Col. North "did what he felt was right and {contra aid} is a policy I agree with." But he took care to add that if he broke the law "he will be brought before the system of justice," and he says he reserves judgment on Col. North until all the testimony is in. A suitable note of caution, we think, amid the jaunty enthusiasm which risks overlooking the serious mistakes Col. North has been convicted by his own testimony of making