When John Yoder, the Republican Senate candidate in West Virginia, got a fax from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) last week telling him how to go on the attack on the flag issue, it was the last straw. Yoder, who is challenging Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D), wanted no more assistance from the committee.

Yoder, a lawyer, called the flag-burning issue "trivial" and said he did not think the Constitution should be amended.

But the two-page NRSC document entitled "GOP Candidate Backs Flag Amendment" begins: "Republican U.S. Senate candidate {Blank} today called upon the Congress to endorse a Constitutional Amendment to protect the American Flag and criticized incumbent Senator {Blank} for opposing such an amendment. . . . Flag desecration is not free speech. It is an unacceptable and violent assault on the values and institutions that underly {sic} the political and social structure of our country. . . . "

Yoder previously had come to blows with the NRSC over campaign tactics and said he had been warned the committee would withdraw its support if he didn't "follow their marching orders." He said the NRSC had contributed $5,000 and two campaign aides, who recently left his campaign at Yoder's request.

"The flag was one of many issues we were disagreeing about," Yoder said yesterday. "They didn't like what I had to say; I was embarrassing to them."

NRSC press secretary Wendy DeMocker said Yoder's charges were "absolutely, absolutely crazy." She said, "We would never, ever tell any of our candidates where to stand on any issue, whether it be abortion, clean air or the flag." She added that she had thought Yoder had withdrawn from the race and was surprised to learn he was still running.

As for the flag document, DeMocker said Yoder "completely misunderstood our intention -- to provide a sample response of what has become the consensus view on the issue of the day."