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Jewish World Review August 30, 2004 / 13 Elul, 5764

John H. Fund

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Tryout Time: The 2008 presidential campaign gets under way in New York. | Party conventions no longer determine presidential nominees, but they still serve two major purposes: pep rallies for the party's themes and a chance for political reporters to have a giant reunion. There's another item of business at this year's GOP conclave. Like actors on Broadway, a raft of candidates are quietly auditioning for the 2008 nomination, when the fight for the GOP nomination is guaranteed to be wide open.

The editors of National Review have gone so far as to schedule time for one-on-one interviews with potential 2008 candidates. None of them would openly acknowledge they are running, but when they heard who had already accepted, they quickly made known their availability. Here is a quick field guide to the possible 2008 GOP field, arranged in alphabetical order:

Jeb Bush, Florida governor. There is general agreement among Republicans that Mr. Bush has the brains and the record of accomplishment to make a great president. But he is burdened by his last name and the fear that the Republican Party would be creating a dynasty if he were nominated in 2008. "The GOP is prone to sticking with too few brand names," says conservative activist Brian Berry. "Since 1948, the party has had a Nixon, a Bush or a Dole on every national ticket save for the Goldwater race. A lot of people want new blood even if they love Jeb."

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Gov. Bush seems to be signaling he isn't likely to be a candidate. He is skipping this year's convention to focus on recovery efforts from Hurricane Charlie. But political winds change quickly, and should his brother lose this year or have a successful second term, the party may want to turn to a successful governor with a record of attracting Hispanic votes who hails from the ultimate battleground state.

Bill Frist, Tennessee senator and majority leader. Mr. Frist has had a rough time trying to manage a Senate that his party only nominally controls. But he has easily the most compelling story of any senator likely to run in 2008: a heart-transplant surgeon who annually flies to Africa to treat refugees. Mr. Frist was well received at the conservative Council for National Policy meeting in New York last week and is clearly bidding for the support of social conservatives.

Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor. Mr. Giuliani will be burnishing his own political credentials in his prime-time speech tonight at the same time he touts President Bush's war-fighting record. Look for Mr. Giuliani, as an acknowledged hero of Sept. 11, to try to subtly convince delegates that his record in support of gay rights and liberal abortion laws shouldn't be central to the party's electoral calculations.

Chuck Hagel, Nebraska senator. Mr. Hagel is in the same position as George Pataki: A better-known candidate with similar views to his threatens to steal his base. In Mr. Hagel's case it's John McCain, who has often been his best friend and closest ally in the Senate.

Nonetheless, Mr. Hagel tells reporters: "I will consider a race for the presidency." He is stopping by meetings of the Iowa and New Hampshire delegations this week. His major weakness is a perception that a Bush White House might like him even less than Mr. McCain as a successor. His major strength is that he is best positioned to pick up the votes of Republicans who are skeptical about the war in Iraq.

John McCain, Arizona senator. Although he will be 72 in 2008, Mr. McCain seems to have recovered from a bout with skin cancer. He has scored points with delegates by assiduously stumping for President Bush's re-election, and even conservative commentator Bruce Bartlett thinks "he may be the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton in 2008." His major political problem remains a contrarian streak that makes many delegates wonder how conservatively he would actually govern as president.

Bill Owens, Colorado governor. A successful two-term governor, Mr. Owens seems to have recovered from a recent separation from his wife and is actively talking up delegates here. He clearly sees himself as filling the role Ronald Reagan played when he sought the 1980 Republican nomination: a reform Western governor with a proven track record. His liabilities are a state budget crisis that threatens to undo the state's tough spending restraints and the fact that Colorado isn't a large political base from which to operate.

George Pataki, New York governor. Mr. Pataki's aides are tamping down talk he is running, claiming that his high profile at the convention is to be expected from the host governor. But he is hosting a series of private meetings with key delegates, including one on Saturday on a boat in New York harbor, to sell his story. It is one of steadfastness in the aftermath of Sept. 11, winning three terms in overwhelmingly Democratic New York, and raising $9.5 million for President Bush this year alone. His major liabilities are potential competition from Mr. Giuliani and, until recently, a weak record on budget restraint and rent control. His liberal positions on gay rights and abortion will play well with some delegates while turning off others.

Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota governor. A dark-horse candidate, Mr. Pawlenty has nonetheless demonstrated formidable political skills in governing the only state that hasn't voted Republican for president since 1972. Conservative strategist Paul Weyrich raves about the governor's ability to unite the conservative coalition in his state. A major drawback for his staff is finding a way for him to get national attention. "Right now, people think a Pawlenty is a specialty candy," says one delegate.

Mitt Romney, Massachusetts governor. Scheduled to address the convention the night before President Bush makes his address, Mr. Romney is clearly eyeing the White House. Jody Dow, a delegate from Massachusetts, says his leadership in running the 2002 Winter Olympics and his ability to govern a liberal state with conservative principles make him a natural candidate. But Mr. Romney is under pressure to show he can expand GOP strength in the Massachusetts Legislature in this year's elections. Otherwise, he may find his vetoes increasingly overridden by a Democratic Legislature determined to cut him down to size.

Certainly other candidates could emerge beyond the above nine, but for now many delegates at the New York convention are looking at those names as the most likely to chart a post-George W. Bush future for the party. Among the endless convention speeches and dozens of parties, reporters and party political professionals will be making some cold-eyed observations about which of the candidates is making the best impression on party activists. After all, the Iowa caucuses may be over four years away but you can bet any potential candidate for 2008 is already mastering the airline schedules into Des Moines.

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©2001, John H. Fund