Paging General Powell

Dole is counting on a crucial boost from his V-P choice

You can tell a lot about Presidential candidates by the Vice-Presidents they recruit. Take Republican nominee-in-waiting Bob Dole. Despite the Kansas senator's impressive sweep of the Mar. 12 Super Tuesday primaries, Dole is looking for a running mate who can provide a crucial boost in what aides concede will be an uphill fight for the White House.

He is only 259 delegates shy of the 996 needed for nomination, but Dole still has a bushel of problems: age, a mushy message, and a Washington-insider image. Worse, his party is divided on social and economic issues.

President Clinton's strength in the Northeast and on the West Coast means Dole must count on winning the general election in the Midwestern swing states. That makes Dole's ideal candidate a rising young economic conservative from the Rust Belt who is acceptable to abortion backers and foes alike. Only one difficulty: That candidate doesn't exist.

COMPROMISE. Instead, Dole must weigh a compromise choice from a short list of potential Veeps. But many of the most enticing candidates would alienate some faction of the divided GOP. Dole confidants say he wants to avoid the flack that hit George Bush when he tapped Dan Quayle from Senate obscurity in 1988. "Bob Dole's first and foremost requirement is someone with a solid record of achievement who can succeed him [as President]," says a friend, ex-Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.)

To many Dole advisers, that should make retired General Colin L. Powell a natural. "There is Powell--and everyone else," says one strategist. Indeed, polls show that a Powell pick could narrow the contest overnight: A 54%-42% Clinton lead over Dole shrinks to 51%-47%, according to a Mar. 8-10 Gallup Poll of 823 registered voters. Powell would attract independents, women, and blacks, says University of Cincinnati pollster Alfred Tuchfarber.

The hitch in assembling this particular dream team: Powell isn't ready to suit up. "What he is saying privately is what he is saying in public--he will not be a candidate for elective office in '96," says political adviser Kenneth M. Duberstein. Dole insiders hope the general will respond differently if asked. Powell associates say he won't.

Another option: Dole could play the geography card. Two popular Midwestern governors--Republicans John Engler of Michigan and George V. Voinovich of Ohio--could help lock in their vital swing states. Strategists think former South Carolina Governor Carroll A. Campbell Jr. could cost Clinton Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee, states he carried in '92. And if Dole dreams of California's 54 electoral votes, he might tap State Attorney General Dan Lungren.

On the other hand, Dole could reinforce his promise to turn over federal programs to the states by picking an outsider. A grassroots reformer such as Wisconsin Governor Tommy G. Thompson, a spirited debater who overhauled his state's welfare system, might fit the bill. Engler, who scrapped Michigan's tax system, is another possibility. Texas GOP Chairman Tom Pauken says Engler is "from a big state, and he is very wired into the conservative intellectual movement."

DELIBERATION. Going for the ethnic vote is another option. GOP polls show Clinton has weak support among non-Hispanic Catholics. For the first time in history, a majority of Catholics voted Republican for Congress in 1994. And GOP strategists believe a Catholic running mate could deliver this key voting bloc to Dole. Among the possibilities: Voinovich and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

Although those close to him don't think he will, Dole also could broaden his support by choosing a woman. That would help lure moderates and suburban independents. Leading candidates: Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Trouble is, both favor abortion rights. Buchanan blasts Whitman as a "militant pro-choice" governor whose selection would "precipitate a real walkout at the convention." That could blow the GOP apart.

Whatever the choice, Dole advisers insist he'll proceed meticulously. "Dole is going to be poring over electoral maps and sifting through polling data," says one aide. His decision will do a lot to decide if the septuagenarian is spry enough to win the White House.

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