By Ceci Connolly
By Ceci Connolly
Lamar Alexander: First, there's the plaid shirt problem. Second, there is the controversy surrounding the fabulous wealth he has amassed through friends and political connections. And third, he lost big in 1996. Yet the former Tennessee governor and education secretary just keeps running and running. And prominent players in New Hampshire and Iowa, including retiring Gov. Terry E. Branstad, have signed on to the Alexander organization. Alexander's 1996 campaign was as disciplined and well-organized as the candidate himself. This time around he's ditching the gimmicky shirt. But otherwise the 2000 playbook looks a lot like the last one: Raise gobs of money, talk about education, portray yourself as a Washington outsider and run, run, run.
Pat Buchanan: Pitchfork Pat remains a force in Republican politics, though he has twice lost long-shot bids for the nomination. The TV commentator is a combination of economic populism and cultural conservatism, promoting strict limits on immigration and foreign trade. Evangelical Christians have been a solid base for the former Reagan administration speechwriter, helping him deliver surprising wins in 1996 in the Louisiana caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Buchanan has revived his long-dormant charitable foundation, the American Cause, and is back on CNN's "Crossfire." But otherwise, he's been off the political circuit for the past year.
George W. Bush: The Texas governor heading for a landslide second-term win next fall enters a 2000 campaign with several advantages daddy's famous name and friends, a big state in his pocket, a gift of gab and a Rolodex bulging with wealthy donors. But the toughest race he's ever run was his father's 1992 campaign. And besides losing, the younger Bush developed a reputation for a short fuse and sharp tongue. At age 40, he gave up drinking and says that nasty temper is behind him. His performance at a summer 1997 GOP cattle call was weak, and he'll have a long gubernatorial record to defend crowded prisons, border incidents, disappointing tax cut and all.
Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes: The multimillionaire magazine publisher dumped $37 million of his own money into the 1996 campaign and won raves for his flat tax proposal. Still, that wasn't enough to win GOP primaries where his squishy views on abortion and gay rights annoyed the party's influential social conservatives. Since then, Forbes has been repackaging himself as a cultural conservative who listed banning "partial birth" abortions as his Number 1 agenda item for 1998. Sometimes a shift like that puts off true believers, but so far the religious right and party activists like what they're hearing. And die-hard conservatives like his attack on the "tepid proposals" of Republican congressional leaders. Three years out, Forbes and his PAC, Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity, are blanketing the early primary states with radio spots and faxes.
Newt Gingrich: With popularity ratings lower than Prince Charles at his nadir, it is hard to see a winning scenario for the speaker of the House. Still, Gingrich has made a career out of debunking the conventional wisdom and pursuing his seemingly too-high goals. In the past few years, he's survived government shutdowns, an aborted coup and a reprimand by the House for ethics violations. He comes to the race with ideas lots of them. And like the military generals he so admires, he is a sharp tactician. Gingrich has admitted he encourages the presidential speculation to draw attention to his ideas and says he'll wait until Labor Day 1999 to make an announcement. In the meantime his political machine is humming. Ginigrich began 1998 with a 17-state tour aimed at burnishing his image. A presidential run could be the best exit strategy for leaving the speakership.
Jack Kemp: Bob Dole gave him a second lease on political life in 1996, but some party stalwarts think Kemp blew it, especially with his disappointing debate performance against Gore. The former star quarterback, congressman and housing secretary is a live wire who can rev up crowds with his we're-all-in-this-struggle-together pitch. He claims ties to two critical states: California and New Hampshire, though his home is in Maryland. The question from 1996 still haunts him today: Can Kemp display the discipline to get the job done? And a serious presidential run means sacrificing some lucrative board memberships and speaking gigs. This may be one campaign plane that fuels up, but never takes off.
Dan Quayle: So he can't spell. Quayle thinks America is ready to give him another chance. He took a pass on the 1996 campaign but has kept a busy speaking and fundraising schedule since then, helping other Republican candidates and promoting a new book on family values. The former vice president remains popular with the religious right and impressed Midwest GOP activists at a conference last summer with a forceful speech. Now that he's left Washington, first to Indiana, then Arizona, Quayle has had time to get in shape on the golf course and polish his anti-Washington spiel. He slapped the Republican-led Congress for increasing federal spending and attacked the Clinton-Gore team for its shaky fundraising practices. Still, it's not clear Quayle can overcome his lightweight image and raise the millions needed for a competitive campaign.
Elizabeth Dole: She's more disciplined, prettier and a better speaker than her husband, so smooth in fact that some GOP strategists feared her Southern charm would outshine him in 1996. Now the head of the Red Cross, this former two-time cabinet member and Harvard grad professes to have no desire in a presidential candidacy. But what about the first Republican woman on a national ticket? Her high standards and strict personality make Dole a tough boss, which might make living in the campaign fishbowl a bit tricky at times.
John Kasich: The hyperkinetic Ohioan has formed a PAC, written a feel-good book, gotten married and recruited a top-notch team of advisers. Although largely associated with fiscal issues, the House budget committee chairman has pleasantly surprised social conservatives with his talk of faith-based solutions and his "personal relationship with God." His vigor and ties to the bellwether state make him attractive. Perceived by many as immature, ingratiating and undisciplined, Kasich can wear thin. And in this era of balanced budgets, he's in need of a broader agenda and fuller resume. He's aiming for the nomination, but veep might be more realistic.
Tom Ridge: The moderate Pennsylvania governor campaigned hard when he heard Dole was eyeing him for the Number 2 slot in 1996 and he looks eager for it again. Ridge's resume is eclectic Harvard University, Vietnam, Congress. If he wins a second term this year, Ridge and his state's 23 electoral votes will be aggressively pursued.
J.C. Watts: As the only black Republican in Congress, minister Watts is a hot ticket on the GOP circuit. Party leaders have tapped this former University of Oklahoma football star for high-profile appearances at the 1996 convention and a nationally televised speech. He proved to be a talented orator with an appealing message of inclusion, who was not quite ready for the spotlight. He turned the TV appearance into a tacky excuse to raise money. He also upset other African-American leaders with complaints in a newspaper interview about "race-hustling poverty pimps" who rely on government handouts.
John D. Ashcroft: A rock-solid, straight-arrow conservative, Aschroft is vying to be the candidate of the Christian right. He is an ardent promoter of home-schooling, random drug testing and term limits and shows no reluctance to employ a heart-wrenching account of his wife's own difficult birth to prove his conservative bona fides on abortion. The former governor is trying to make a name for himself as an innovative tax reformer but more people know him as a member of the "Singing Senators" quartet. Even with his long career in Missouri politics, his name ID in national polls is in single digits, and cultural conservatives say they want a winner this time.
Gary Bauer: When strategist extraordinaire Ralph Reed left the Christian Coalition, Bauer moved to become the pre-eminent cultural conservative. His newly formed PAC raised more than $2 million last year, while the Family Research Council collected $14 million. He may be taking a page from Pat Robertson's playbook, using a presidential run to recruit members for his growing grassroots group. The former Reaganite keeps a hectic travel schedule and is an influential voice on legislative proposals. And Bauer is smart enough to know even if he commands just 5 percent of the GOP primary vote, he could determine the outcome with a well-time endorsement.
Rudy Giuliani: He dresses in drag, fought President Clinton on welfare reform and supports affirmative action. It's hard to see how Republican primary voters would choose this pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights mayor of New York as their standard bearer, but that hasn't stopped the wild speculation. A staunch conservative at the top of the ticket might tap Giuliani for balance. He gets credit for sprucing up the Big Apple and cutting crime. But his silly protest over a bus ad revealed an awfully thin skin.
Alan Keyes: The charismatic radio host and former Reagan administration aide will always have his following. It's just a rather small slice of the electorate. Keyes added spice to the 1996 campaign and forced Republicans to answer his pointed questions on such issues as abortion. Running a shoestring operation and garnering a healthy dose of free media, Keyes can get by on less money that most candidates.
John McCain: If the vote were among the Washington press corps, the contest would be McCain's to lose. His candor and independent streak win him points with reporters and could sell well with a public disgusted by say-anything-to-get-elected pols. Few politicians have a story as rich as McCain's a POW in Vietnam tarnished late in life by the "Keating Five" scandal. Much to the dismay of his colleagues, the Arizona senator is leading the fight for campaign finance reform, an issue that could give him traction with voters but won't help when it comes to raising money for a presidential bid.
George Pataki: When the Republican governor went scouring for cash far from the New York borders, tongues began wagging that he had grander plans than a second term. His support of abortion rights and opposition to cutting off aid to legal immigrants, make him a bit moderate for many GOP primary voters. But Pataki is immensely popular in the state and, after tossing Mario Cuomo out of office, should not be underestimated.
Bob Smith: Smith has one thing going for him: New Hampshire. But even that could work against him with his home state in revolt that his candidacy would discourage the usual parade north of candidates. The archconservative senator barely won a second term, eeking out a 49 percent win in 1996. Some say he was hurt by his ardent work on behalf of Sen. Phil Gramm, who dropped out of that winter's presidential campaign before New Hampshire. Now Smith, a Vietnam veteran, is following Gramm's playbook with early visits to Louisiana, which could mean a similar fate for him in 2000.
Fred Thompson: The buzz about Thompson has quieted since his campaign finance investigation fizzled. But star power is a funny thing. When the 6-foot-5 Tennessee senator lumbers into a room, heads turn. In short order, Thompson has mastered the dual roles of public office: a folksy, tobacco-chewing, truck-driving everyman, and the polished inside operator who knows how to outflank his own party leaders. Money, talent and exposure would not be a problem for the lawyer who helped uncover Watergate. But what's his message and why would he want the job?
Ceci Connolly is a national political reporter for The Washington Post. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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