Powell holds line, bows out of any major role in '96 GOP hopes deflated as retired general says no to Dole

July 09, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Further deflating Republican hopes that he would be a major factor in the 1996 election, retired Gen. Colin L. Powell said yesterday that he has no plans to campaign for Bob Dole or other GOP candidates this fall.

Powell also reiterated that he has no interest in becoming Dole's vice-presidential running mate or in playing a leading role at this summer's Republican National Convention.

"I don't want to go out. I don't plan to go out on the campaign or fund-raising trail. I am practicing my own politics privately," Powell told the Associated Press as he began a series of interviews to promote the paperback release of his autobiography, "My American Journey."

Powell's statement yesterday clearly was a disappointment to the Dole campaign, which is trying to narrow President Clinton's double-digit lead in opinion polls. Dole revealed last month, after meeting with Powell, that he had asked Powell to travel with him during the campaign. He said he was waiting for the general to reply.

Yesterday, Dole's campaign spokesman, Nelson Warfield, played down the significance of Powell's rebuff. "We still expect him to be an active supporter of Senator Dole's," Warfield said.

Powell said he intends to support Dole and to vote for him. But how active his support would be was not clear from his remarks. Powell said he would "be seeing Senator Dole in the months ahead" and expected to appear with him in public. He did not elaborate.

For the better part of two years, Dole has made clear that Powell was at or near the top of his list of potential running mates. Since wrapping up the nomination this spring, Dole has toned down his opposition to affirmative action, which Powell generally supports, what many Republicans regarded as an effort to allay his concerns.

Dole and Powell met briefly June 8, and afterward Dole said it was "very doubtful" that Powell would accept the vice-presidential nomination. Privately, however, some high-ranking Dole campaign aides continued to believe that Powell had not completely shut the door on the idea.

Ann Stone, a Republican abortion-rights activist, said a top Dole aide had told her within the past two weeks: "If you have any influence with [Powell], now is the time to use it."

She said Dole's advisers "were very blunt about what they wanted" from Powell. "Vice president was first, and any role was second." She said she had had no direct contact with Powell.

It was after meeting with Powell last month that Dole told reporters, "I talked about his ability to help me, maybe show up in some of our campaign appearances."

During a June 15 campaign stop in Alabama, Dole said: "I'd like to have [Powell] right here today and everywhere I go. I've asked him if he'd be willing to travel with me, and he's going to let me know."

Yesterday, Powell indicated that, in effect, he had turned Dole down. "I am not anxious to be a major political figure at this time," Powell told the AP. "I am still a retired general, and I don't feel comfortable going around the country" telling people how to vote.

Powell's spokesman, Bill Smullen, said it would be "very difficult" for the general to make campaign appearances because he has speaking commitments two or three times a week through the fall. Powell reportedly receives a fee of up to $60,000 for each speaking engagement.

Dole and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour have said they wanted Powell to assume a high-profile presence at the Republican convention in San Diego in August. But Powell said yesterday: "I don't know that I will play a role."

Smullen said that Powell, who has been discussing his convention role with party officials, would not accept an invitation to deliver the keynote address but would consider a less prominent part.

The Powell aide said he could not confirm reports that Powell has complained privately to leading Republicans about the harsh rhetoric that some in the party have used in the political battles of the past two years.

Despite his decision to stay out of campaign politics this year, Powell did attend a fund-raising event last month for Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, who was facing a Republican primary battle against conservative forces allied with Oliver L. North. Powell said yesterday that he made an exception because Warner is a friend and Virginia is his adopted home state.

A political moderate who calls himself a Rockefeller Republican, Powell says he supports the Republican Party's efforts to balance the budget and reform welfare, Medicare and Medicaid. But he has expressed concern that poor children might be hurt as federal social programs are scaled back.

Last spring, in a commencement speech at Bowie State University, he took issue with Republican efforts to end affirmative action policies that favor minorities in employment and college admissions decisions.

In an interview yesterday on National Public Radio's "The Derek McGinty Show," Powell criticized Republican proposals that would allow states to deny public education to children of illegal aliens. Those efforts, which Dole supports, are "short-sighted," Powell said.

Powell also repeated his belief that "at the end of the day, a woman should have the right to choose."

Dole, who has opposed abortion throughout his career, said recently that he was willing to pick a running mate who supports abortion rights.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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