Looking for a contender

November 21, 1997|By Harold Jackson

COLIN POWELL still hasn't found the ''passion'' to run for president, he said last week. Funny thing, though, the more he says politics leaves him cold, the more people want him to run for office. It's the fact that he's not a politician that turns voters on. They want someone better than the guys they fear will do anything for a big campaign contribution.

A party decision

Many Republicans refuse to take ''no'' for an answer from the retired general. Immediately after Mr. Powell's latest announcement that he would not be a candidate for president in 2000, some of the GOP faithful were saying not to count him out. ''When the country or events become cyclonic, it's not his decision,'' said former Reagan speech writer Anthony Dolan.

Such comments reflect the lack of interest Republicans have in their possible choices three years before the election.

Texas Gov. George Bush owes his prominence among potential candidates to his name as much as anything he's actually done. His backers insist there's ''a whole new Dan Quayle,'' but adversaries will make sure voters don't forget the old one. Steve Forbes' one idea didn't ignite the electorate in 1996, why should it in 2000?

Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has squandered his chances for greater glory by not shaking up the Clinton presidency as promised during his campaign-finance hearings. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft are relatively unknown outside their respective arenas. Then there are Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan, who voters know too much about.

Non-combatant Mr. Powell might be a formidable champion if he had some fight in him. But he's right not to take on such a mission if he doesn't have the stomach to battle Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition, who are spreading the word that they expect to anoint the next Republican presidential nominee. They're not likely to choose a pro-choicer like Mr. Powell.

The general's disinterest in Republican propositions is also noteworthy in context with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's war against Bill Lann Lee, Mr. Clinton's nominee to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. Mr. Lee's crime is his past support of affirmative action, a remedy for past racism that Mr. Powell also has defended as necessary.

But the main reason Mr. Powell doesn't want to run for president is the same one he stated two years ago -- ''the needs of my family.'' The former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is enjoying not being a soldier. He likes having a schedule that allows him more time with his wife, Alma.

A firm 'no'

Mrs. Powell's unwillingness to be placed under the microscope of a political campaign will make her husband's ''no'' firm, no matter what pressure is placed on him to run.

Even without Mr. Powell on the ballot, the Republican Party could win significant black support in 2000. Anti-affirmative action poster child Ward Connerly represents a position shared by some other blacks who wouldn't dare be as vocal about it. The Christian Coalition is trying to mine conservative black voters at religious events.

Moderate Republican New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani got significant black and Hispanic votes in his Nov. 4 re-election. That same day, Paul C. Harris became the first African-American Republican elected to the Virginia House of Representatives since 1891. If the Republicans can come up with the right candidate with the right message, the Democratic grip on black votes could waver.

Colin Powell could do that for the GOP in 2000. But right now, he doesn't have the heart.

Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.