THE '96 RACE . . . GOP HOPEFULSŐ EYES ON THE PRIZE

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With President Clinton looking vulnerable after the Democrats' trouncing last week, a pack of emboldened GOP presidential hopefuls for '96 are already poking their heads out of the underbrush -- and revealing some internal party dissension. Today, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, an outspoken loyalist during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, announced the formation of an exploratory committee to test the waters, while Texas Sen. Phil Gramm said Sunday he was filing the paperwork necessary to begin his candidacy. Expect backbiting soon: Specter, a moderate, took a swipe at the religious right ("they advocate intolerance"), while Gramm, on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, said he was more "committed to changing government fundamentally" than his potential lead rival, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. (Dole says he'll decide on the race by Feb. 15.)