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GOP Star to Skip Convention

Powell, Following Cabinet Tradition, Will Stay Out of Fray

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2004; Page A07

The most popular Republican in the country will not be speaking at the Republican National Convention. The party's number one asset, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, will not even be there -- and may not be in the United States, according to U.S. officials.

Throughout the Bush presidency, Powell has consistently scored better than his boss in public opinion polls, often by 20 points or more. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in May, Powell was viewed favorably by 69 percent of respondents -- compared with 49 percent for President Bush and 39 percent each for Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"I have to take no sides," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told minority journalists meeting in Washington. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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But in keeping with tradition, Cabinet officials do not speak at the conventions -- or other campaign events. So Powell will not appear.

"As secretary of state, I am obliged not to participate in any way, shape, fashion, or form in parochial, political debates. I have to take no sides in the matter," Powell told the Unity: Journalists of Color Convention on Thursday. Powell was a featured speaker at the 2000 convention and even campaigned with Bush.

As secretary of state, Powell continues to promote the GOP -- and he recently reflected on whether his centrist views fit with the current right-leaning trends among Republicans.

"Some people think that if you're a Republican you cannot have moderate views. I have moderate views in a number of issues, moderate by normal political definition, with respect to affirmative action and things of that nature, and I find that there are many, many Republicans like me who feel that way," he said last month in an interview with radio host Armstrong Williams.

The Democratic Party has traditionally drawn more minorities than the GOP has. But Powell said the Republicans deserve more credit for action. "If you look at where affirmative action really started, I mean, who really started to put this in the law, you will find that it has a Republican origin," Powell, the party's most prominent African American, told Williams, a black conservative commentator and protege of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

"You will find that President Nixon got a lot of these programs started," he said.

Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, two of the other most visible faces in the administration, will not be at the New York convention, either. "By tradition and custom, the national security adviser does not actively participate in campaign or political events," said Sean McCormick, a National Security Council spokesman.

Powell may spend some of the time on vacation. He may also use the time to catch up on some deferred travel to non-hot spots, according to State Department officials.

Powell was out of the country during the Democratic National Convention on a seven-nation tour of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, including Iraq.

He might have done well in Boston, according to the May poll. Compared with Powell's 69 percent favorable rating, John F. Kerry was viewed positively by only 39 percent in May.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company