Gov. Wilson nearing '96 run for president

March 21, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Pete Wilson will launch an exploratory committee for the 1996 presidential campaign -- most likely this week -- in a move that sources portray as a necessary formality before his official entry into the Republican race.

Wilson officials said that although the governor's announcement falls short of an official presidential declaration, it should be considered a confirmation that Mr. Wilson has decided to seek the presidency.

They said the exploratory committee is a step to organize a national campaign staff before an official campaign is launched. They also compared the move to the plans other presidential candidates have followed -- first announcing their interest and later scheduling a formal ceremony to symbolically kick off their campaigns.

"This is part of a preparation process," said a source close to Mr. Wilson.

During the exploratory period, sources also said the governor will behave more like a presidential aspirant than a tentative prospect. They said he will appear at campaign events in key primary states such as New Hampshire, and he will speak about the themes he plans to offer in a presidential campaign.

Some Wilson aides did not rule out the possibility that unanticipated developments might alter the governor's plans. But others said that was unlikely, adding that the exploratory committee was not being created to allow the governor an easier escape route.

"I think . . . they have staged this thing so that he heightens press expectations to give his staff time to put together a presidential campaign," said one California Republican consultant.

Sources said they expect the exploratory phase will last about two months, followed by an official campaign kick-off.

Wilson officials said the governor will announce his exploratory committee in California either before or immediately after his trip to the East Coast, which begins Friday. Some said he was all but certain to make the disclosure before he leaves so that he can get the most political mileage out of his trip.

Mr. Wilson has said he would make an announcement by March 31, which is the day after he is scheduled to return from his six-day trip.

During the trip, Mr. Wilson has a number of events scheduled, most notably three fund-raisers, in Washington, New York and Boston. Officials said the fund-raisers are intended only to help the governor pay off a debt of more than $1 million left over from his 1994 re-election campaign.

They acknowledged, however, that some supporters who attend the events might also want to financially assist the governor's presidential effort.

Earlier this month, Mr. Wilson announced that he had created a bank account to "test the waters" for a presidential campaign. By announcing his exploratory committee, officials said he would file papers with the Federal Elections Commission in Washington to create a presidential campaign committee.

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