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Jewish World Review Aug. 23, 1999 /11 Elul, 5759

Don Feder

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Who should conservatives unite behind? -- THE LATEST POLL SHOWS Gov. George W. Bush slipping among New Hampshire Republicans. Now, 40 percent say they'll vote for him, compared to 47 percent just a month ago. May his slide continue, and accelerate. Still, unless we want the unappealing prospect of Bush vs. Gore in 2000, the right had better unite fast.

Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes each has much to recommend him, as well as drawbacks. Here's an assessment of the conservative candidates.

Steve Forbes -- Not to be crass, but Forbes has a self-financing campaign, which helps when you're in the ring with the $37-million man. You might call it his Five Freedoms: freedom from the IRS (with a flat tax), freedom to invest your Social Security taxes, freedom to pick your child's school and (for potential victims of abortion) freedom to be born.

Downside -- In a populist age, it's hard to sell a man who uses T-bills to light his cigars as a champion of Middle America. Forbes remains awkward on the stump. And though much of his message appeals to conservatives, he is a committed globalist, witness his support for Clinton's Kosovo adventure.

Pat Buchanan -- Pat served in three administrations and stood next to Ronald Reagan at major summits. He won the 1996 New Hampshire primary against then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Buchanan's economic nationalism could corral millions of union members in the primaries and general election. Of the field, he is the most passionate opponent of the New World Order.

He's also hands-down the best debater in the party. Because he's quick, quotable and funny, even media liberals love to cover Pat. To watch him work a room is to witness a pro in action.

Downside -- After '96, Pat walked away from presidential politics and lost much of his organization in the process. More than any conservative in the race, Buchanan still scares the fuzzies (much of the electorate). Besides, it's hard to be taken seriously as a GOP candidate when everyone thinks you'll go third party.

Gary Bauer -- Bauer has demonstrated the ability to marshal a highly motivated, dedicated group of supporters, witness his fourth-place finish in the Iowa straw poll.

With a base of 80,000 contributors, he's raised $3.4 million (average contribution around $55, compared to just under $500 for Bush). Bauer gets a higher percentage of his contributions from women than any Republican, including Elizabeth Dole.

He's tenacious and articulate, and handles questions well. There's more to Gary's agenda than family values, though he's unapologetic here.

Downside -- Bauer hasn't dispelled the perception that he's a Bible salesman seeking the presidency. Being photographed just before the straw poll viewing a sculpture of the Last Supper, done in butter, didn't help.

Like Forbes, Bauer doesn't look presidential. Like all the conservatives in the race, except Quayle, he's never held elective office.

Dan Quayle -- He has a proven record on the issues. The others can talk about abortion, national defense and tax cuts, but Quayle cast the votes and sponsored the legislation as a congressman and senator. Of the conservatives, he's the only one to be elected to any office, and three prominent offices at that.

As a campaigner, he may not be the equal of Buchanan, but Quayle looks and sounds better than ever. Because of his credentials, he's the only conservative acceptable to the party establishment. His new book, "Worth Fighting For," raises a banner conservatives can rally to.

Downside -- Finishing behind Alan Keyes in the Iowa Straw Poll is unimpressive. The rationale of Quayle's campaign (they're saving bucks for the primaries and caucuses) doesn't hold water. On the other hand, the ex-vice president is now running ahead of Forbes and Bauer in New Hampshire.

For me, Quayle's the one -- if for no other reason than I'd love to see the look on Dan Rather's face when Quayle takes the oath of office.

Trouble is, if the other conservatives wait till after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary to assess their prospects, it will be too late. The divided conservative field is Bush's strongest ally.

Incredibly, there are those who think Junior Bush is a conservative.

They'll never see this column, since they're waiting by the phone for a call from Santa and that urgent fax from the Easter Bunny.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate