Bauer Planning Steps for Presidential Bid
By Terry M. Neal
Although he served as a high-ranking Reagan administration official and later built an influential national conservative advocacy organization, the Family Research Council, Bauer is not well-known among voters. He is, however, well-known among social conservatives and has loyal supporters who could help him in Republican presidential primaries that begin next February, several GOP sources said last his week.
Bauer's appearance today on NBC's "Meet the Press" was designed to give him exposure to a national political audience. He plans to file papers with the Federal Election Commission on Monday to open a presidential exploratory committee, which could raise money and hire a staff to assess Bauer's prospects for 2000.
In an interview last week, Bauer, 52, said he was encouraged by the reception he received at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Northern Virginia earlier this month. He placed first in CPAC's straw poll, ahead of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes, among others.
"I just feel that American politics in recent years hasn't really been that relevant to the problems that average Americans are dealing with," Bauer said. "I think I've got a governing vision, and people will react positively to it. And I'm anxious to get into the arena with some of the more established figures."
Bauer took over the Family Research Council in 1989 and built the three-person outfit into a player in conservative circles with 120 employees and a $14 million budget. The organization was associated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family until Bauer broke off in the early 1990s to pursue a more activist political agenda. Bauer is on leave from council to pursue the presidency.
Dobson and Bauer, who remain close, have criticized GOP congressional leaders, whom they believe had forsaken the party's conservative base. In last year's elections, Bauer's political action committee, Campaign for Working Families, spent millions supporting conservative candidates -- including GOP primary candidates running against moderates backed by congressional leaders such as former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Bauer's supporters point to his success building the PAC as another sign of his viability as a candidate. Bauer's PAC raised nearly $7 million in the last election cycle. (According to FEC records through last October, Bauer's PAC had brought in more money than PACs run by any other major politician, including Vice President Gore, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), former vice president Dan Quayle and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander.) More than 90,000 people contributed an average $35 donation, campaign aides said. They said Bauer should be able to translate that success into a formidable campaign fund-raising operation.
Bauer "is a very smart, tough guy and takes his politics very seriously," said William J. Bennett, Bauer's boss at the Education Department. "He's not that well-known, but he's developed a very strong and reliable following from his FRC work. More important is the intensity of the feeling from those who know him and like him."
The challenge for Bauer will be to distinguish himself from a growing field of candidates working to appeal to the same conservative base. Many GOP insiders said Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) had done the best job building support among social and religious conservatives. But Ashcroft has announced he will seek reelection rather than run for president. Bauer is less known than some of the favorites of the religious right, including Quayle and Forbes.
Several GOP sources said Bauer would appeal to a similar base as television commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who ran in 1992 and 1996. Privately, Bauer aides say while the two share some core conservative principles, Bauer's internationalism clashes directly with Buchanan's isolationist views. A source close to Buchanan said he is mulling whether to run for president again.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said Bauer has some things going for him: He's smart, articulate and gives a great speech. And his connection to Dobson "means people will go out and work for him. But that doesn't mean I think he'll do all that great down the road."
In recent interviews and public appearances, Bauer has portrayed himself as the closest to former president Ronald Reagan in the field of potential candidates. In the late 1970s, Bauer worked as a volunteer on Reagan's presidential campaign. Reagan appointed him to a position in the Education Department, where he was later confirmed as an undersecretary.
Bauer said opposition to abortion and support for school prayer and vouchers will be cornerstones of his campaign. He likened Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision that denied a slave his freedom and denied blacks constitutional protection. Both decisions, he said, were "horrible blots" that "took a class of Americans and said they had no rights that America is bound to respect."
"I think that this is probably going to be a major difference between me and some of my competitors who have argued we can only go so far because people won't go any further," Bauer said. "My point is, a leader leads and molds public opinion. I want to attempt to bring the public to my understanding of why abortion on demand is inconsistent with our most deeply held values."
Bauer's supporters stressed that he is well-versed on matters of foreign and economic policy, and that he will focus as much on those issues as on moral ones.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, said Bauer, a close friend, will surprise people with his positions. Unlike some candidates -- such as Forbes and Quayle -- who hail from wealthy or political families, Bauer was raised in a working-class community in Newport, Ky. Even though he is conservative on issues such as taxes, he will focus more on tax relief to families than to Wall Street.
"He won't simply sound like the predictable right-wing Republican," Kristol said. "I suspect he'll be willing to break the mold a little bit."
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