It was only last weekend when Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) left Iowa for a week of campaigning in New Hampshire. But in his absence, Dole aides said Vice President Bush had sneaked up in nightly tracking polls conducted in the days after Bush's interview with CBS anchor Dan Rather Monday night, forcing Dole to revise his schedule for the final days of campaigning before the Feb. 8 Iowa caucuses.

For several days now, Dole and his aides have been busy attempting to lower the news media's expectations about how well their candidate will fare on caucus night. And as Dole campaigned throughout the state yesterday, he declared the race a dead heat. "It's an uphill battle, but we're going to do the best we can," said Dole, who insisted that the race between himself and Bush is now "even-steven" in spite of polls that show him ahead by at least 10 points.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Dole's Iowa state chairman, loyally echoed the campaign's new line. "We've had 9 1/2 years of George Bush campaigning for president of the United States," he said. "It's always been an uphill battle."

Dole campaign manager William E. Brock flew in to New Hampshire to consult with Dole and accompanied him on his Iowa swing. Brock has added more time for campaigning in Iowa, cutting into some of the time Dole will spend here when the Senate takes up President Reagan's contra aid request.

Dole and Brock said they are bracing for whatever Bush may throw their way during the coming week. "Bush will put everything he has into Iowa to pull off a knockdown," Brock said. "He'd be crazy not to."

For Dole the task is to turn yesterday's warm crowds into caucus votes a week from Monday. "If for some strange reason you decide not to go to the caucus for me, I wouldn't bother going out if it's too cold," he told a laughing audience in Story City. "I worry about your health."