LATIMER, IOWA, FEB. 3 -- An angry Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) today demanded that Vice President Bush "stand behind every word" and "not duck" responsibility for a statement issued by Bush's Iowa campaign chairman that accused Dole of a "record of cronyism" and a "history of mean-spiritedness" that "nearly single-handedly brought the Republican national ticket down to defeat" in 1976.

Dole, who holds a widening lead in polls with only days to go before Monday's Iowa caucuses, said a press release issued today by George Wittgraf, Bush's Iowa chairman, was a "pathetic, desperation tactic" that indicates the Bush campaign is "leaderless" and "out of control."

"Nobody seems to be in charge," Dole told a news conference in this small, north-central Iowa town. "Either George Bush is responsible for this kind of campaign, or he is totally out of control."

Dole said he had a hard time believing that Bush had approved the seven-paragraph attack issued on campaign stationery. "Maybe he {Bush} isn't in charge," Dole added sarcastically. "Maybe he's not in the loop."

"If he {Bush} isn't a leader enough to rein in this guy, I don't want him in my White House," he added.

Wittgraf's statement was an unusually harshly worded attack issued in the closing days of a heated campaign here. "Iowa Republicans must weigh Bob Dole's record of cronyism and his history of mean-spiritedness carefully before they decide whom to support as our party's nominee for president," Wittgraf said.

"Dole showed the country his mean-spirited nature in 1976 when he nearly single-handedly brought the Republican national ticket down to defeat," Wittgraf said.

Dole, who was the 1976 running mate of then-President Gerald R. Ford in loosing to the Democrats, was given a copy of the statement when he arrived at Cal High School here this afternoon to give a speech on education. At three points in the speech, he made veiled references to the attack and campaigning "in the gutter." He then called an impromptu news conference to discuss it.

"Most people could care less" about such attacks, he said. "Most people who vote have problems. Most people who vote are looking for leadership. Most people who vote wonder what Bob Dole might do for America, not some pathetic, desperate criticism."

What appeared to anger Dole the most was a Wittgraf reference to the senator's wife, former U.S. transportation secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, and the candidate demanded that Bush personally apologize to her.

Wittgraf's press release said although "nothing illegal has been uncovered," three federal agencies are examining a blind trust set up by Elizabeth Dole.

Wittgraf has served as a surrogate attacker for Bush on several earlier occasions. Dole challenged Bush to "stand behind" Wittgraf's statement and "not duck it."

Waving the statement in his hand, Dole said, "I want George Bush to hold this in his little hand and say I stand behind every word."

The Iowa exchange came as Dole launched a new commercial in New Hampshire that challenges Bush. The ad says Bush "had nothing to do" with major accomplishments of the Reagan administration.

"We'd be surprised if Bob Dole did anything but negative advertising," said Bush campaign spokeswoman Barbara Pardue. "It is totally in keeping with his style of campaigning with the last 20 years."

It is Dole's first negative advertisement of the campaign, and was approved by the candidate on Sunday, according to political consultant David Keene. The 30-second commercial shows photos of Dole and Bush side by side, as the announcer intones, "What's the difference? Bob Dole led the fight to save Social Security. George Bush had nothing to do with it." As the photo of Bush fades, the announcer credits Dole with having "pushed President Reagan's tax cuts through the Senate" while chanting, "George Bush had nothing to do with it."

The spot ends with a photo of Dole and Reagan shaking hands as the announcer says, "Bob Dole will make a difference for America. The difference is leadership."

Staff writer Lloyd Grove contributed to this report.