Posted on June 06, 1994 in Washington Watch
The Republican field of Presidential candidates is more wide open than it has been in many years. Typically, there is at least one candidate who is considered the early favorite for the nomination. But the Republican party today is more divided than it has been in thirty years, and even within each faction there is no clear front-runner.
The descent from the dominant Republican coalition which produced victories in six of the past seven Presidential elections to the current fractious state has been swift, and the causes lie in the recent history of the party.
No sooner had George Bush lost his 1992 reelection bid than an intense ideological debate developed within the Republican party. Conservatives argued that Bush had failed to maintain the pure and powerful conservative message that had manufactured the dominant victories of the Reagan years. Republican moderates countered that times and the views of voters had changed, and that the rigidity of the conservative message had alienated many women voters, affluent professionals and blue collar workers, and cost the party the election.
And as early as July of 1993 several leading Republican personalities had announced the formation of their own political organizations, designed to shape the public debate on political issues and to mobilize voter support for their views. Contrary to come criticisms, these organizations (founded by such figures as former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, Senator Bob Dole, 1992 Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and Massachusetts Governor William Weld) were not in and of themselves launching pads for 1996 Presidential campaigns. They are platforms for promoting the political vision their respective leaders believe the party must adopt if it is to win back its position of national leadership.
It is true, however, that these organizations do help keep alive the political ambitions of their founders by providing them with regular media attention national visibility on the one hand while developing a base of volunteers, contributors and potential voters.
As the Republicans have come to see President Clinton as vulnerable, the race to succeed him in 1996 is heating up. As I noted in last week’s column, it is far too early to count Clinton out for 1996 or to count the Republicans back in. Nevertheless, several Republican leaders have already taken steps to seriously position themselves for the race for the White House.
Visits to the states with early primaries, campaigning for candidates for Governor and Senate, publishing political books and making highly visible political speeches are all early signs of a potential candidate’s intention to run. But those activities alone will not determine a candidate’s viability.
To secure the Republican nomination to challenge President Clinton in 1996, a candidate must emerge victorious from a grueling national campaign in the Republican primaries. And in order to do that, most political analysts agree that a candidate must meet some basic prerequisites:
Â· A strong, organized base of supporters who will work and vote for the candidate is absolutely essential.
Â· The ability to raise the large sums of money needed run a national campaign will also be crucial, as estimates of the money needed for the first three weeks of the primary season range from $7-10 million – with a total of $30 million required to win the nomination.
Â· A candidate must project a simple, clear and convincing message that will attract the media and provide voters with a compelling alternative to the Clinton program.
Â· The first three factors must be translated in a win in the primary races in the first states to hold those elections, which by traditional are Iowa and New Hampshire. Such a victory will provide a boost to the candidate’s campaign by capturing the attention of the national media, increasing the flow of campaign contributions, and begin the process of securing the delegates who will assure the candidate of the nomination at the party’s convention in July. In fact, every candidate who began by winning the Republican primary in New Hampshire has gone on to win the party’s nomination.
With these factors in mind, a look at the current list of list of contenders for the Republican nomination yields the following early projection of their prospects for 1996.
Senator Robert Dole
Dole is the Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate, the most visible and powerful position of any Republican in the United States, and he can use this position to his advantage.
Among his assets are the simple fact that Dole has run national campaigns before, twice as a serious candidate for his party’s nomination for President and once as a the Republican nominee for Vice President (in the losing campaign of 1976). He has the greatest name recognition of any Republican and has a proven ability to raise money and build an organization. Dole has also shown that he can win the primary in his neighboring state of Iowa, though he has always had some difficulty in New Hampshire.
On the negative side, Dole will be 73 in 1996 – older than Reagan was when he ran for reelection in 1984. His age, his health (which though vigorous is more fragile than Reagan’s was) and his temperament may keep him from winning the Republican nomination. On at least two occasions in the past, in the heat of a grueling primary campaign, Dole has embarrassed himself by losing his temper in public.
Yet while other leading Republican candidates have thrown themselves with abandon into the ideological war for the sole of their party, Dole is a pragmatist who has played the role of leader of the legislative opposition to Clinton. However, if he is to succeed in 1996 Dole must move beyond simple opposition to present a coherent alternative vision to voters. The irony is that Dole’s pragmatism has made it difficult for him to articulate such a vision in the past.
Nevertheless, should he decide to run, Dole must be considered the early front-runner in the race for 1996. He has already made several visits to New Hampshire to speak at Republican meetings, and his own political action committee has raised a significant amount of early money to support the Senator’s political activity.
In some ways, Jack Kemp is the most interesting of the Republican hopefuls for 1996. He is still a relatively young man and his stature as a former star professional football player makes him appealing to youthful voters, and his overall reputation makes him appealing to African Africans and blue collar workers – three groups whose votes the Republicans will need in 1996.
To many, Kemp was the heir-apparent to the Reagan mantle, conservative, charismatic and capable of building a majority coalition. He can raise money and has a loyal national political organization. But Kemp’s independence and his strong political views have alienated many other party leaders. A Kemp victory would be a decisive one.
Another negative facing Jack Kemp is that he has been cast in the role of the rising young star for so many years that many feel he will never live up to the once high expectations both the party and the country had for him. He has been actively raising money and visiting states that will be holding important early primaries. And Kemp has also been actively campaigning for Republican candidates in the 1994 elections, earning him political credits which he could cash in for a possible Presidential bid.
Another interesting point that may provide the key to Kemp’s intentions is his recent announcement that he will register as a California voter. Although he was born and raised in California, Kemp played professional football and ran for Congress in New York. Since California is the nation’s largest state and the biggest prize of the primary season, this switch suggests that Kemp may be hoping to corner the support the state’s 15 million registered voters.
James Baker III
There are few pundits or party leaders who doubt James Baker’s effectiveness a political manager. He served both Reagan and Bush in several capacities and with the exception of his role in Bush’s losing ‘92 campaign, he has won positive reviews for his work. But he has recently come under attack from former Vice President Dan Quayle, who wrote that Baker’s role in the Bush Administration was overrated. Quayle contends that Baker was more dependent on Bush than Bush was on Baker.
There is no doubt that Baker can raise the money to run but there are strong doubts that he can build a large base of supporters for his campaign. He has never run for national office, nor has he articulated the type of political vision on which to base a campaign.
His recognized forte is in foreign affairs – not in the issues that appeal to most voters. One Republican analyst has said of a possible Baker candidacy, “If Presidential politics were decided on merit, Baker might have a chance, but since it’s based on both grass roots and media campaigning, he doesn’t really seem to have a chance.”
Many assess Dick Cheney’s chances to be the same as Baker’s. He has good name recognition, a strong record in foreign affairs and of service to a number of Republican Presidents; but he has no experience in the type of campaigning that produces a nominee. Although he served in Congress for 12 years and excelled as a Cabinet Secretary, many doubt that Cheney has the type of skills required to wage and win a national campaign.
While it is always unwise to discount a former Vice President who is campaigning for President, Quayle appears to have too many obstacles to overcome before he could win the nomination. He does have many loyal followers, but the press and a large percentage of the voting public refuse to take him seriously. After being the object of too many public jokes during his four years in office, it is difficult to imagine that Quayle can reconstruct his public image and mount a successful campaign for President.
Yet, reconstructing his image in order to run for President seems to be what he is determined to do. His recent book, Standing Firm, attempts to build on the slight rehabilitation his reputation received during the 1992 Presidential campaign, and blasts his critics – including those in the Republican leadership, though this has created some new difficulties for the former Vice President.
Although Quayle has high negative ratings, because of his tenure as Vice President he has a more organized Republican support base than most of the other potential candidates. It is, therefore, unwise to count out a Quayle candidacy.
Senator Phil Graham
Graham is often criticized for being a self-promoter. He has alienated a number of important Republican leaders with his attempts to use his role as RSCC chairman to build a campaign organization and position himself ahead of other Republican hopefuls. He also faces ethical problems in his home state of Texas, and it is doubtful that people outside of that state would ever accept him. Graham’s proven ability to raise money is his major asset, and one that he will use to his advantage.
Bennett, former Secretary of Education and former leader of the Reagan Administration’s anti-drug efforts, is a respected intellectual who has never run for public office. His association with Reagan and his unassailable conservative credentials provide him with currency among party activists, though it is unclear how well he could use that political currency to raise hard cash. And while he has the ability to project a clear and simple message, that message does not seem to be very attractive to the media and Bennett himself has not demonstrated an ability to connect with voters on issues that are foremost on their minds. Still, Bennett has a powerful personality and intellect which place him in the role of a dark horse candidate – especially if the well-organized conservative and Christian right wing adopt him as their candidate of choice in 1996.
Alexander, Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration and a former Governor of Tennessee, is at this early state one of the most active potential 1996 candidates for the Republican nomination. He has started his own national Republican television network, which broadcasts weekly town meetings across the country. He has visited both Iowa and New Hampshire to support the campaigns of this year’s Republican candidates, and is widely respected among the part’s inner circle though not well-known outside of it.
Alexander is seen at a potentially strong candidate if he can raise early money. He has the vision, the focus and the organization needed to run effectively, but money remains the key to any successful national campaign.
Several sitting Governors are regular mentions in pundits’ lists of possible Republican Presidential candidates: Pete Wilson of California, William Weld of Massachusetts, John Engler of Michigan, Carroll Campbell of South Carolina and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin.
Of this group, the most formidable potential candidate is Wilson, simply because he is the only state-level Republican official in the nation’s largest state. To be a viable candidate he must first win a tough reelection battle this November and once again reconcile with conservative Republicans in his state who are regularly irritated by his stand on social issues. California’s economy, which is still in something or a recession, must also improve if he is to be able to count on the support of his home state. Wilson is a pragmatist and a smart politician who has a proven record as a campaigner. He currently maintains that he will not run for President in 1996 if he is reelected this year, but Bill Clinton was not hurt when he broke a similar promise in 1992.
Many political analysts think that Weld would be an interesting candidate. A social liberal and fiscal conservative, Weld is the Governor of the state which borders the important primary state of New Hampshire. He has the style and issue orientation that could win a national race for President – but he has so angered conservatives with his stands on social issues that he may not be able to win the Republican nomination.
The other three governors that I mentioned seem unlikely to run in 1996. Engler faces a difficult reelection fight this year in Michigan and would probably not be able to retool his operation in time to make a serious run for the nomination. Campbell is still a young man (he will only be 56 in 1996) and although he is considered a rising star in the party it would be difficult for him to successfully conquer a crowded field of challengers, making it likely that he will put off seeking the nomination until at least 2000. Thompson is the most likely of the three to run, since he has been criss-crossing the country for the past four years and has built up a network of people who might be willing to work for him and has implemented a welfare reform system which may make a very popular national issue; but he is a year younger than Campbell and probably couldn’t raise enough money to make a serious bid.
Three other potential Republican candidates for the nomination are former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, the only woman to consider running in the Republican contest; Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who would have ready-made base of financial support from the Jewish community; and H. Ross Perot has hinted that he might run as a Republican in 1996 – a threat which few take seriously, but none can afford to ignore.
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