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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    When Bush Comes to Shove

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, March 12, 1999

    Question: Is Texas Gov. George W. Bush conservative enough to get the support of the religious right? – Debby Biddle, Chantilly, Va.

    Answer: It depends on who you ask. Bush has been endorsed by a dozen governors, five senators and 72 members of the House, many with strong ties to Christian conservatives. Others in the movement, such as Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, have been singing Bush's praise. Many of these people are hungry for the White House and see Bush as a winner. Others remain skeptical.

    The governor says he is strongly opposed to abortion, but his recent comments on the issue have evoked hostile reaction from folks like Phyllis Schlafly and Richard Viguerie. Bush said there should be exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother, that he will not focus on getting rid of Roe v. Wade, and that the party should acknowledge its abortion-rights constituency.

    I have never seen such a rush to pick a frontrunner so far in advance, especially on the Republican side. But the angry reaction to Bush's abortion comments suggests that the road to the Philadelphia convention may not be as smooth for the Texas governor as some have suggested.

    Question: Should Bush wrap up the Republican presidential nomination, what kind of dirt can we expect to be dredged up from his past? – Mark Odegard, Waukon, Iowa

    Answer: You cannot read a newspaper account of Bush's strengths and weaknesses without seeing a reference to his admitted but hazy youthful indiscretions. Nearly every question I've received about a Bush candidacy mentions the "dark secrets" in Bush's past. For his part, the governor has acknowledged doing "some foolish things" when he was young, but has offered no details, which has only fueled the speculation. A TV reporter in New Hampshire even asked him if he had ever used marijuana or cocaine. ("It is irrelevant what I did 20 to 30 years ago," Bush said. "What's relevant is that I have learned from any mistakes that I made.")

    Some have suggested that a public exhausted over non-stop investigations into President Clinton's past would have no tolerance for a repeat performance starring Bush. Others have said that if Clinton had to go through it, then Bush or some other Republican should experience it as well. A number of political reporters have told me that Bush has no choice in the matter, that this is what journalism has become. It will be interesting to see if Bush's strategy will be successful. But I would not be surprised if his GOP rivals, the Gore camp or the media, if not all of the above, are conducting ongoing investigations into Bush's private life.

    Button
    As in 1988, there is speculation over a Bush-Dole ticket – though with a different cast this time. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Question: If a GOP ticket of Bush and Elizabeth Dole is chosen to oppose Al Gore, three of the four national candidates would be related to former federal officeholders. More remarkably, it would be a ticket made up of the son and spouse of the last two losers. – Joseph Masi, Washington, D.C.

    Answer: And it would be four of four if Gore chooses as his running mate Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, the son of the late Sen. Tom Dodd.

    As you observe, it is unique to see the son of a former federal officeholder, let alone the son of a president, run for that office. John Quincy Adams was the only son of a president to make it to the White House, and only two others tried. Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Honest Abe, was a hopeful at the 1884 and 1888 GOP conventions. Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard Taft, sought the Republican nomination three times, the last one a bitter loss to Dwight Eisenhower in Chicago in 1952.

    Which leads to this fun fact, sent in by David Beiler, of Falmouth, Va.: "You report in your Aug. 28 column that Congressman John Harrison was the only man to be the father of one American president and the son of another. But who was the only woman to be the daughter of one American president and the wife of another? Answer: Sarah Taylor, daughter of Zachary and wife of Jefferson Davis."

    Question: Who are the key individuals involved in Gore's presidential effort? – Donald Lewin Nelson, Santa Monica, Calif.

    Answer: Gore's campaign will be managed by Craig Smith, the former White House political director whose relationship with Bill Clinton goes back to the days when he was governor of Arkansas. Tina Flournoy, a former Philip Morris executive, will be finance director. Jose Villarreal, a San Antonio attorney, will be campaign treasurer. Three former Gore chiefs of staff also are expected to have major roles: Peter Knight, Jack Quinn and Roy Neel. Other names floating around include current chief of staff Ron Klain, former representative Tom Downey (D-N.Y.), pollster Mark Penn and media adviser Bob Squier.

    Question: Has the vice president always received his party's nomination if he wanted to run for the presidency? – Colleen McNear, Redmond, Wash.

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    Alben Barkley was the last vice president to fail in his bid to win his party's presidential nomination. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: The last one who tried and failed was Alben Barkley, who sought the Democratic nomination in the wake of the surprise retirement of President Harry Truman in 1952. Since then, every incumbent vice president who sought his party's presidential nomination received it: Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and George Bush in 1988. Presumably, Gore will be the Democratic standard bearer in 2000, although he does face a challenge from former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley.

    As I outlined in my Aug. 7 column, vice presidents who sought the presidential nomination earlier in the century had a much tougher task:

    • Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson, failed in his 1920 attempt at the nomination;
    • Charles Dawes, the understudy for Calvin Coolidge, lost out at the 1928 GOP convention; and
    • John Nance Garner unsuccessfully tried in 1940 to wrest the Dem nomination away from the man he served under as vice president for two terms, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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