FLORENCE, S.C., FEB. 24 -- Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) was at another high point today on the long roller-coaster ride to the Republican presidential nomination.

He left the frozen landscape of his native Midwest this morning for the warming sun of the South and the embrace of his new southern ally, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

The roller coaster, however, may be about to take another dip. After winning the South Dakota Republican primary and the Minnesota caucuses Tuesday -- victories that visibly lifted his spirits after his defeat in New Hampshire a week earlier -- Dole also headed into the southern stronghold of his main rival, Vice President Bush.

With Thurmond at his side, Dole campaigned today across South Carolina, where he is the decided underdog in the March 5 GOP primary but where, in a tacit alliance with former television evangelist Pat Robertson, Dole sees an opportunity to wound Bush.

The South Carolina primary is the prelude to the March 8 "Super Tuesday" contests, which are concentrated in the southern and border states. Bush is heavily favored to win many of the showdowns and the largest number of Republican National Convention delegates at stake. But Robertson also claims the South as his territory and has vowed to defeat Bush in South Carolina.

Out of this political mix has grown a temporary marriage of convenience between Dole and Robertson that was clearly evident today. Asked about Robertson at his first stop in Columbia, Dole said, "I'm not quarreling with Robertson. We don't have anything to quarrel about."

Earlier, Dole told reporters, "If Robertson wins {in South Carolina} and I'm third, that's not too bad."

One of Bush's principal southern supporters, South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. (R), suggested Tuesday that Dole and Robertson are in active collusion here to damage Bush just before Super Tuesday. David A. Keene, a political consultant who is advising Dole, denied this today while acknowledging the temporary benefits of the Dole-Robertson alliance.

"The target is always the front-runner," Keene said. "We act in our interest and Robertson acts in his interest."

Keene said the Dole and Robertson campaigns have had "moderately frequent but sporadic contact" that has been "defensive" in nature, "so that our people are not engaging in the Robertson bashing that the Bush campaign has been doing."

"They are contacts to keep the peace," he said. "We can keep the peace with anybody who is not the front-runner."

In keeping with that policy, Dole consistently praises Robertson for "broadening" the base of the Republican Party while dismissing his chances to be the GOP nominee. "It's going to be either Bush or Dole," Dole said today.

A Robertson victory here would fit nicely into a Dole strategy aimed at producing a muddled outcome from Super Tuesday. Conceding Bush's regional strength, Dole is aiming his efforts on such border states as Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as selected congressional districts in other states. Dole strategists also have begun to argue that Super Tuesday will not be decisive and that despite Bush's financial and organizational advantages, it is Dole who is best positioned to win a protracted war of attrition for the nomination.

"Every day that Bush doesn't put it away is another day for Republicans in other states to realize that they don't have to put up with this guy if they don't want to," Keene said.

"Bush will do relatively well on Super Tuesday," said Donald J. Devine, another senior Dole aide. "But what it's all about is {convention} delegates. After Super Tuesday, nobody will have a majority. It isn't going to be conclusive."

Dole campaigned today in quintessential Super Tuesday fashion: he made four stops at four South Carolina airports for news conferences in four media markets before moving on. At each, Thurmond praised Dole as the best qualified and most electable of the Republican candidates and Dole employed some of his most conservative rhetoric, calling for "a strong defense . . . strong family values, strong law enforcement."

"I want people to understand all over the South that Bob Dole is the conservative in the race," he said.

Tuesday's victories were a welcome tonic to a Dole campaign that was badly shaken by Bush's win in the New Hampshire primary and is bracing itself for a series of Bush wins on Super Tuesday. After New Hampshire, Dole's mood turned sour and he complained frequently that "we let expectations get out of hand there."

Today, however, Dole was chipper and able to laugh even about his reputation for supposed "meanness" as a political infighter. Flying to South Carolina from Minneapolis this morning, he proudly displayed a column by Mike Royko under the headline, "White House Needs More Meanness, Fewer Smiles."

Dole smiled.