DETROIT -- Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) was on his cellular phone finishing up some business with his office back in Washington when he changed the topic to ask about one other pending project. After listening for a minute, he said, "I want you to get the artist and tell him to go out and look at a building, one that's got some letters etched on the side. Have him go out on a sunny day and see what the shading looks like."
Architectural drawings? Hardly.
Gramm was talking about the logo for his 1996 presidential campaign. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he may be concentrating right now on helping to elect a Republican Senate, but as that brief conversation showed, he's ready to move swiftly to the next phase of his life once this election is over.
Gramm is one of at least a half dozen Republicans either ready to run for president or giving it serious consideration. Gramm, Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, Richard B. Cheney, James A. Baker III, Lamar Alexander and Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) have spent the fall campaigning for GOP candidates across the country and at the same time testing their messages and trying to gauge potential support.
Some are as ready and organized as Gramm; others, like Kemp, who ran for his party's nomination in 1988, appear more ambivalent.
With a front-loaded primary and caucus calendar, the need to raise $25 million to $30 million by the end of 1995, and a belief that President Clinton will be vulnerable in 1996, the battle for the GOP presidential nomination will begin almost before the two parties stop their spinning over the results from next week's midterm elections.
Unlike the 1992 race, when Democratic challengers did not begin their campaigns until a year before the election, Republicans are ready to break quickly after the midterms, and none perhaps more so than Gramm.
According to sources familiar with his planning, Gramm already has picked a campaign manager (Texan James Francis), a senior adviser (veteran Charles Black, although Black said he has not formally agreed to help anyone yet) and a chief fund-raiser (Carla Eudy, who has been with him since 1984).
The former Democrat plans to shift $5 million from his Senate campaign accounts to his presidential committee and will open offices in Dallas and Washington before the end of the year, with Dallas the fund-raising center and Washington the political center. He plans a formal announcement of his candidacy in late February or early March, but well before then he expects to have qualified for federal matching funds.
"I hope to win the Senate back," Gramm said last week in the middle of another intensive day of campaigning for Senate hopefuls. "And once that race is over, I'm going to sit down and make the decision, and ... I'm not going to fool around with an exploratory committee or going out sounding around the country. I'm going to make a decision to do it and get on with it."
Gramm isn't the only one moving rapidly. Alexander, a former education secretary and Tennessee governor, also picked a campaign manager (Dan Pero, now top aide to Michigan Gov. John Engler) and has lined up several former Republican finance chairmen (Ted Welch and Joe Rodgers) to help him raise the money needed to make the race.
He is writing a book about his travels around the country this year and has coined one of the season's most crowd-pleasing anti-Congress, anti-Washington stump lines: "Cut their pay and send them home."
"Lamar and Phil are working it the hardest," one Republican said. "They're out there pounding away. The rest, who knows?"
The rest are working too. Dole, who as Senate minority leader is the closest thing there is to a Republican front-runner, has been tireless in his planning, if he decides to run. He recruited people to help develop a campaign plan and also has begun to line up talent. Among those likely to play significant roles, according to one GOP veteran, are operatives Bill Lacy and Tom Synhorst, who guided Dole to victory in the Iowa caucuses in 1988. Dole also has been recruiting in key states around the country.
But if Republicans win control of the Senate on Nov. 8, Dole is likely to come under pressure from some of his colleagues to make a choice between being majority leader or presidential candidate, and there are indications that he is torn about the choice.
As the prospective presidential candidates have traveled this fall, potential supporters have offered business cards, pledges of support and words of encouragement for their candidacies.
"We'll name this building after you when you're elected president," Audley Evans of the Tampa public housing authority joked last Friday to Kemp, former Housing and Urban Development secretary. Kemp has campaigned for 160 candidates this year. Dole has been in 43 states, according to his office, and hit five in one day last week, a sign that while the 71-year-old senator might be the oldest candidate in the GOP field, he still has the energy to run for president.
Cheney, defense secretary in the Bush administration, has been out almost nonstop this fall, stressing his foreign policy and defense credentials, and like Kemp, plans to wait until the end of the year to make a final decision.
"What he has said is his timetable will be to start raising the money at the start of the year, which is the same as other folks would be banking on," one Cheney associate said. "He thinks there still will be ample time to put together the organization."
Nearly everyone with an interest in the nomination has been to Virginia to campaign for controversial Senate candidate Oliver L. North, including Baker, even though many other top officials Baker served with in the Reagan administration have denounced North as a liar who should not be a senator.
Baker's stop in Virginia, one of about 20 states where he has been in the last year, was the clearest indication that he is thinking hard about running for president. One of his Texas friends has been telling people he does not believe Baker will become a candidate, but Baker has not made a decision and won't until later in the year.
Quayle, written off as a likely candidate a year ago, has used the last six months to begin a political rehabilitation process, first with publication of a book about his vice presidential years and this fall through a series of high-profile speeches, through courtship of the religious right and by campaigning for about 40 Republican candidates.
Quayle formed a presidential exploratory committee about 10 days ago and converted his old Senate campaign committee into a political action committee.
Kemp, who argues that the Republican Party must be more open to blacks, Latinos and other minorities, has done more than campaign for candidates this fall.
Two weeks ago, he injected himself into the middle of California's explosive debate over illegal immigration by coming out forcefully against Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that would deny most government services to illegal immigrants. The move, which Kemp made along with former education secretary William J. Bennett, outraged many Republicans in California (the state that Kemp strategists are counting on as his 1996 base), particularly Gov. Pete Wilson (R), who supports the measure. "I'm not very popular right now in California," Kemp said. "I love the truth more than I love this party, and I guess it grates on some people."
Kemp, campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush in Tampa on Friday, said 1996 considerations were not a factor in his decision to oppose Proposition 187. "I think it is a dangerous and very slippery slope that the Republican Party is headed toward," he said of the anti-immigration sentiment.
Once the darling of conservatives, Kemp finds himself at odds with many in the movement. He is uncomfortable with the implicit message of the party as favoring small government and big prisons, and opposes a balanced-budget constitutional amendment and term limits, two hot-button issues for Republicans this fall.
Many Republicans are awaiting a clear signal from Kemp about whether he intends to run for the nomination again. Some of his former supporters have expressed frustration with his apparent ambivalence.
Like most other prospective candidates, Kemp won't talk about his intentions. "I know I can't wait forever and can't wait until much into '95," he said. "I'll provide an answer, but I'm not playing games with anybody." But he added, "Nothing sets my belly afire more than a struggle over the future of the country ... and the party."
Fund-raising requirements alone mean candidates will have to decide quickly whether to enter the GOP race. Raising $25 million in 1995 requires candidates to average about $68,500 a day every day of the year. Kemp has been warned that to raise the necessary money will mean appearing at 250 fund-raising events in 1995.
There are wild cards in the prospective Republican field. Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who traveled to Iowa earlier this year to warn about the danger to the party from the religious right, plans to announce an exploratory committee in mid-November and could become a voice for moderates. Patrick J. Buchanan could run again and Gen. Colin L. Powell and Ross Perot could become factors as well.
Another is California's Wilson, if he is reelected, as now appears likely. Wilson has said he does not plan to run for president in 1996, but reelection will bring pressure on him to do so. Some of his advisers, without predicting what he will do, say he can afford to wait longer than some of the other candidates before deciding whether to become a candidate. The reason? "In the last six months," one adviser said recently, "he has raised $1,000 or more from 12,000 people."