Former senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), saying his campaign for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination "is a go," yesterday named a campaign chief and reported he has raised more than $1 million in seven weeks.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is a go," Laxalt said at an afternoon news conference. A spokesman for Laxalt said his formal announcement is expected shortly after Labor Day.
Laxalt, one of Ronald Reagan's closest friends and political supporters for more than two decades, named New Hampshire native and longtime Reagan loyalist Gerald P. Carmen to be his national committee chairman.
Carmen, who managed the president's successful 1980 primary effort in New Hampshire, headed the General Services Administration in Reagan's first term, and served as permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva following Reagan's reelection in 1984.
Noting Laxalt's long association with Reagan, Carmen presented Laxalt as the only rightful Reagan heir. "The dream that Ronald Reagan represents, Paul Laxalt represents, and no one else does," Carmen said.
Laxalt said that his candidacy could suffer if Reagan is damaged by the Iran-contra affair, but he added that he has not detected "any damage whatsoever" in his travels.
Asked how his presidency would differ from Reagan's, Laxalt replied, "Fundamentally, it won't." He said he would depart from Reagan's course, however, to pare "a lot of waste" from the Defense Department budget and to adopt a more activist role on trade issues.
Carmen acknowledged Laxalt is an underdog in the campaign. Public polls show him running at best a distant fourth, behind Vice President Bush, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).
Campaign aides said the Nevadan is relying on Dole to "neutralize" Bush in the competition for moderate Republicans while he challenges Kemp for control of the party's conservative wing.
Laxalt backed away from his May statement that he must raise $2 million by Oct. 1 in order to be a "viable" candidate. He described that target as "a minor condition," adding that he is running "lean and mean" to avoid incurring a serious debt.
The campaign will file financial disclosure forms today with the Federal Election Commission.
Laxalt was questioned yesterday on his relations with figures in the Nevada gambling industry, a subject that has repeatedly put him on the defensive. He said he does not expect those issues to become "a serious obstacle" to his success.