'Candidate clutter' obscures the real Republican politicians' signals

October 27, 1995|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- On the face of it, there are two ways to look at presidential candidates like Morry Taylor and Steve Forbes.

On the one hand, as everyone keeps saying, they have ''a perfect right'' to run for the Republican nomination. They meet the constitutional qualifications for the office and, anyway, where is it written that only politicians can run?

Talking heads

The other way is to see them as contributing to candidate clutter, using their money to get themselves into news coverage and the televised debates where they make it more difficult for voters to focus on the ''real'' candidates, presumably meaning the Bob Doles and Phil Gramms and Lamar Alexanders.

No one would argue that the time isn't auspicious for candidates like Forbes and Taylor. Opinion polls show the voters flat-out hostile to conventional politics and politicians. Ross Perot already has demonstrated, by capturing 19 percent of the vote in 1992, that there is indeed a market for business executives.

But the real problem with such unknowns is the one that surfaced with Mr. Perot in that same campaign. It was only after prolonged exposure that the voters discovered that the billionaire from Texas was temperamentally not a comfortable choice for president. Once Mr. Perot came up with that one about the George Bush campaign menacing his daughter's wedding, a lot of people rolled their eyes and changed channels.

By contrast, the conventional candidates have long records of ,, public service on which they can be judged for better or worse, both in terms of their positions on issues and in terms of their personal qualities. But what do we know about Messrs. Forbes and Taylor?

No money troubles

The one thing we do know is that their single greatest strength is their money. Mr. Forbes is a magazine publisher and son of a colorful father, who has lent his campaign $4 million to get started and threatened to spend several times that amount. Mr. Taylor, a self-made industry executive, already has spent about $3 million and says he has sold $15 million in stocks to finance the enterprise.

Outsiders and insiders

Mr. Forbes is, marginally at least, less of an outsider than Mr. Taylor. He has the backing and advice of a small coterie of Republican conservatives who believe in supply-side economics and think he can ride the flat tax issue all the way to the nomination. Or, to put it another way, if Jack Kemp had decided to run, there would be no Steve Forbes.

Mr. Taylor is trying to exploit the contempt for politics and government so obviously abroad in the land today. ''This is a real la-la town,'' he says of Washington. ''It's all make-believe.'' The quality of the politicians and their advisers, he says, is ''depressing'' but, he adds, not surprising ''because most of them are lawyers.'' Elect him president, he says, and he will balance the federal budget in 18 months without the help of Congress simply by firing one-third of the federal bureaucrats.

Critical factors

There are two critical factors in the campaigns of Messrs. Taylor and Forbes. The first, of course, is all that money. If they had to raise it, they wouldn't be burying New Hampshire voters in television commercials four months before the primary. The second is the process that makes it possible for anyone to talk himself into -- or be talked into by campaign consultants who see a paycheck -- the notion that lightning might strike because all you have to do is win the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and it's all downhill.

Mr. Taylor, for example, has figured out that if he puts one supporter in each of Iowa's 2,200 precincts and that supporter enlists 20 friends, that adds up to 44,000 votes caucus night -- enough to win. Then in New Hampshire, there are all those independents who can vote in the primary. ''If we win Iowa,'' he says blithely, ''there's no question in my mind we'll win New Hampshire.''

In fact, it is probably all a pipe dream. Candidates always seem to think it's easier than it is to organize for those Iowa caucuses. There's always a lot of loose talk about enlisting independents in New Hampshire. But that's the beauty of money. It allows you the luxury of pipe dreams.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

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