The sure-bet ticket to the White House

May 12, 1999|By Tom Fiedler

I REALIZE that it's a bit early for me to be making a fearless forecast about next year's presidential campaign. But now that the cream of the Republican congressional leadership has decided that Texas Gov. George W. Bush will be the GOP presidential nominee -- skipping over the fact that he hasn't yet announced and the Iowa caucuses are still nine months away -- we professional political prognosticators must act now.

I predict that Mr. Bush will choose a female running mate and thereby confound the Democrats.

I know what you're thinking: Elizabeth Dole. And why not?

Mrs. Dole has been much in the political news recently, having captured the spotlight at the state Republican Party dinner in New Hampshire. While her male challengers (without Mr. Bush, who remains in Texas and avoids these early cattle shows) paraded to the podium and unburdened themselves of predictable platitudes, Mrs. Dole wore a lapel microphone and strolled about the room, reprising her gig at the 1996 Republican Convention.

And she drew many headlines by telling this group of crusty New Englanders that she didn't feel that every family needs an AK-47 for protection, nor does she favor the sale of armor-piercing bullets or guns without trigger locks.

The New York Times described the audience response as "tepid." In fact, some found these ideas to be so radical that they booed. This reaction reveals much about the hard-core Republican electorate's thinking, and it signals trouble for Mrs. Dole.

In the long run, it wouldn't have made any difference had she thrilled the group by calling for Stinger missiles in every child's backpack. Mrs. Dole stands no chance of winning the GOP nomination. For all her style, she simply doesn't reach the bar of presidential gravitas.

Yes, she's been a member of two presidential Cabinets, but in backwater posts -- Labor and Transportation. And, of course, she's been president of the Red Cross, an important job. Those credentials put her ahead of such other hapless Republican contenders as Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes.

But like them, she hasn't been elected to anything since college. And none of her jobs (nor theirs) are regarded by most voters as serious training for the White House. So Mrs. Dole, as beloved as she is by some in her party, is destined to come up short; her fate is to be speculated upon as a prospective running mate for the inevitable nominee, Mr. Bush.

And if he is smart, the Texas governor will go with a woman (assuming that Colin Powell remains uninterested). And if he is really smart, it won't be Mrs. Dole.

The ideal running mate would be someone who complements the governor, who brings to the ticket strengths and qualities that he doesn't have. For example, he could benefit from someone whose roots are in a different part of the GOP; someone who brings geographic diversity (that is, not another Southerner); someone with Capitol Hill experience and, most important of all, someone who can help reach across party lines to appeal to independent and even Democratic voters.

I have just the person: Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Even if you know nothing about her, the name oozes gravitas. But there's so much more. For openers, she's the senior U.S. senator from Maine with two decades on the Hill, including the past six years in the Senate, which by itself makes her credible.

Then consider these other traits: She's 52 (a boomer, like Mr. Bush); she's married to a former Maine governor; she's a tightfisted believer in less government and more freedom, which means she believes government has no business telling a woman what to do with her body; she's an expert on defense policy, especially sea power, and she's so fiercely independent that she was among the few Senate Republicans who voted against the articles of impeachment facing President Clinton.

Think Margaret Thatcher outfitted by L.L. Bean. Such a ticket would have to work very hard to lose to Al Gore and the person I eventually select for him. The governor can trust me on this.

My record as a forecaster speaks for itself (if you don't count President McGovern in '72, President Hart in '84, President Jim Thompson in '88 and the squeaker victory of President Alexander in '96).

Tom Fiedler is editorial-page editor of the Miami Herald.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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