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But Believes None of Rival Party's Candidates Are Qualified for White House : Haig Gives Democrats Edge in Presidential Race

December 24, 1987|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — The Democrats' chances of recapturing the White House next year are "far higher" than 50-50, regardless of who wins the Republican presidential nomination, Alexander M. Haig Jr., a long-shot contender in the GOP race, said Wednesday.

Haig, blaming the nation's budget deficit on his own party and declaring that corruption in the Reagan Administration will be an issue in the 1988 election campaign, said people "want change for change's sake."

While severely criticizing the Reagan Administration and some of his fellow Republican presidential candidates, Haig assailed the seven Democratic presidential candidates also. Even though the eventual Democratic nominee should be heavily favored to win, he said, "there isn't one qualified to be President."

Haig, talking with extraordinary candor and bluntness for a presidential candidate, commented on a range of controversial issues during an interview with reporters and editors of the Times Washington Bureau.

Calls Pardons a Mistake

He said President Reagan will be making a mistake and will be criticized "tremendously" if he pardons former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter and aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North for any criminal charges they may face in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal.

North and Poindexter are focal points of the criminal investigation of the affair being conducted by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, and there have been rumors that Reagan might pardon both men during the Christmas holidays.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that North's lawyer requested a pardon last January on the grounds that North was serving the President in arranging arms sales to Iran and diverting profits to the Nicaraguan Contras. Reagan has refused to say whether he might consider giving them clemency.

Haig, who was Reagan's secretary of state in 1981 and 1982 and also served in the Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford administrations, said Reagan is more conscious of his place in history than any President he has known and he does not believe Reagan will risk pardoning the two men.

Wants North Accountable

In disagreeing with a recent comment by Vice President George Bush that North will go down in history as an American hero, Haig said he believes the Marine officer will be held accountable for lying to Congress and destroying records in the scandal. "I don't think anybody in his right mind would whitewash actions that were either illegal or wrong in terms of the law," he said.

In assessing his own chances of winning the Republican nomination, Haig conceded that his campaign is operating on the margin financially and that he must finish at least third or a close fourth in the Feb. 16 New Hampshire primary to remain a feasible candidate.

Polls so far have indicated a two-man Republican race, with Bush holding a substantial lead and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) holding a firm grip on second place. Trailing far behind are Haig, former television evangelist Pat Robertson, former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).

'Just Hanging in There'

Haig said he, Du Pont and Kemp are "just hanging in there" and acknowledged they all will face serious fund-raising problems without respectable showings in New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side, Haig said it is "mind boggling" and makes him "shudder" when he realizes one of those candidates may be elected. Only 39-year-old Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee "might qualify" as adequate presidential timber, he said, but only if he had 10 more years of "maturity."

In addressing key campaign issues, Haig called the huge federal budget deficit a "Republican debt" and that "for Republican candidates to go around like Jack Kemp or George Bush saying it was the Democratic House of Representatives that caused this debt, I think most knowledgeable Americans gag a little at that. We controlled the Senate, and we controlled the White House" during the period the deficit expanded drastically, he said.

Haig said Reagan contributed to the debt by going along with "budget-busting" congressional measures instead of vetoing them.

Reagan, he said, "vetoed 33 bills in his first five years. The seven presidents I served have vetoed 200 to 300 bills in a comparable period of time. Jerry Ford vetoed 65 bills in his first six months in office. I know because I helped prepare the veto schedule."

The Corruption Issue

Haig said that, with more than 100 officials having left the Reagan Administration under a cloud of unethical or illegal conduct, the Republican nominee in 1988 will have to confront the corruption issue. In an obvious reference to Bush, Haig stressed that the more a nominee has been associated with the Administration, the more serious the problem he will face.

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