Former senator John G. Tower (R-Tex.), campaigning in Nebraska yesterday, said Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.) has "the reputation in Washington of being one of the two or three biggest boozers in the Senate."

Exon called the charges "without foundation whatsoever and outright falsehoods." Tower was campaigning on behalf of Exon's challenger, former representative Hal Daub (R-Neb.), who is trailing in the race. Exon immediately called on Daub to apologize for Tower's remarks.

Tower, appearing on Omaha radio station KKAR's program "Talk of the Town," was asked by host Steve Brown about senators who voted against his nomination to be secretary of defense in 1989. The nomination was defeated in part because of allegations that Tower had a drinking problem.

Tower said it was never established "that I had done anything disqualifying." He charged there was "a massive amount of hypocrisy" in Exon's vote against him. Exon was the first senator on the Armed Services Committee to come out against Tower's confirmation.

When pressed by Brown to explain, Tower continued, "Sen. Exon bore down on me heavily on the drinking thing, when he's got the reputation in Washington of being one of the two or three biggest boozers in the Senate. So you know, why should he take up the cudgel on that?"

After Brown suggested that Tower had made a serious charge, the former senator said, "We're talking about reputation. We're talking about rumor. Specific comments that have been related to me by others. So I would have to say that I don't have firsthand knowledge. I would establish that because that is the fair way to do it."

Exon, responding to Tower's remarks, told Nebraska reporters he blamed Daub for the "truly ugly and negative turn" in the campaign. He described Tower as a "convenient mouthpiece for the irresponsible Republican opponent I am facing."

Exon said he did not blame Tower. "I think it is unfortunate that Sen. Tower, a Texan who obviously has a terrible ax to grind, comes into this state with this kind of irresponsible charge," he said. Exon called Tower an "embittered" man and said he felt sorry for him.

Daub, in a telephone interview late yesterday, said he was "most surprised" by Tower's remarks. But added, "If anybody owes an apology maybe it is Jim Exon to John Tower for the way he handled these same issues -- alleged alcoholism and fitness to serve in public office -- when John Tower's nomination was on the Senate floor."