Four years ago this week, a small, advance party for George Bush's presidential campaign set up shop in offices a few blocks from the White House.
Today, President Bush is preoccupied with the Persian Gulf War, but White House officials are taking steps to prepare for his anticipated reelection bid in 1992.
White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu said last week that Bush's White House will "roughly" follow the model established by President Reagan's reelection campaign in 1984.
That would mean Bush will make major decisions on the structure and staffing of his campaign this spring and establish a full-blown campaign organization sometime next fall. Under this schedule, Bush would announce his reelection bid late this year or in January 1992. White House officials said that because the primary and caucus schedule has changed since 1984, Bush's timetable may be five or six weeks ahead of Reagan's.
The longer Bush can appear mainly presidential -- rather than political -- the better, aides said. Bush has made clear to subordinates he does not want to immerse himself in political planning while U.S. forces are fighting and dying in the gulf. One person "got his head snapped off" when he tried to engage Bush on the subject recently, according to a source.
But in his State of the Union address Tuesday, the president began to sound themes that will dominate his reelection campaign, themes that assume a successful conclusion to the gulf war and a speedy recovery from the recession.
His new budget -- to be unveiled today -- as well as a series of proposals on issues such as energy, transportation and banking scheduled for release during the next few weeks will provide additional glimpses of what Bush likely will emphasize as his domestic accomplishments and beliefs. His political reform package expected later in the spring will give further glimpses.
The modest domestic agenda will stress adherence to the budget reforms approved last year, giving greater flexibility to state and local governments, and giving what top aides describe as power and opportunity to individuals in such areas as education and housing.
Bush's White House staff soon will undergo some restructuring, much of it focused on the Office of Communications, headed by presidential assistant David Demarest.
Aides said Sununu is considering a plan that would enhance the Office of Public Liaison by splitting it off from the Office of Communications and putting it under the authority of a newly designated assistant to the president. This office would play an expanded role in reaching out to the constituency groups essential to Bush's reelection coalition.
In addition, the Office of Intergovernmental Relations is likely to be moved out of the communications office, either to be teamed up with the public liaison office or combined with the Office of Political Affairs.
At the same time, Sununu is working to reshape the speech-writing operation, one of the main cogs of the communications office, by hiring a replacement for Chriss Winston, who aides said worked more as an editor than a writer. Tony Snow, editor of the Washington Times editorial page, is the likely successor to Winston.
Who will run the campaign and in what configuration is one of the favorite speculations in Republican circles, but insiders suggest that Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher would be titular head, in the way former senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) operated as head of Reagan's campaign. Under this scenario, pollster and strategist Robert Teeter would be the campaign director or manager.
Cabinet Secretary Ede Holiday, Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Mary Matalin and Sununu assistant Ed Rogers are considered strong candidates for other top jobs, including deputies to Mosbacher and Teeter. Rogers would like to be political director of the campaign, but Sununu wants him in the White House as his liaison to the campaign.
Officials say Sununu also will play a strong role in trying to run the campaign from the White House. "What a president says and where he goes is 94 percent of a presidential reelection campaign," said one administration official in describing the power Sununu could wield from inside the White House.