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Powell Warned Not to Run by 10 Conservative Groups : Politics: GOP leaders vow to oppose ex-general should he enter presidential race. They say his moderate social views are antithetical to Republican voters.

November 03, 1995|JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In an overt effort to frighten Colin L. Powell out of the Republican presidential contest, leaders of 10 conservative groups on Thursday warned the retired general not to run and vowed to oppose him if he did.

With a decision from Powell expected as early as next week, their message was unequivocal: Powell's views on social policy are antithetical to those of Republican primary voters and would lead the party to defeat against President Clinton.

"Any candidacy by Colin Powell must be stopped. He will be stopped," declared Morton Blackwell, Republican national committeeman from Virginia.

Powell's spokesman, F. William Smullen, said that neither he nor the general had seen the conservatives' press conference and would have no comment. Smullen said that Powell was still weighing whether to enter the race and promised a decision "soon."

Other speakers at the Washington event--representing anti-tax, anti-abortion and other conservative organizations--were adamant that Powell was unacceptable.

Although the conservative groups represented at Thursday's event claim millions of members who are among the most loyal foot soldiers in Republican politics, other equally influential conservative bodies chose not to participate, including the National Rifle Assn. and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

And several prominent conservatives, among them former Education Secretary William J. Bennett, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp and Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol, are encouraging Powell to run as a way to broaden the party's base and appeal.

But those who shared the stage at the National Press Club on Thursday rejected the notion that the Republican Party needed "a savior" and insisted that without active conservative support, Powell could not hope to win the GOP nomination or the general election.

Powell, they asserted, was a liberal whose candidacy was being promoted by Washington's opinion-making Establishment to derail the Republican revolution led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other social and fiscal conservatives.

They said they would work against him if he chooses to run and threatened a mass walkout at the Republican National Convention in San Diego next summer if Powell wins the nomination.

"Colin Powell is the Trojan horse of the Establishment," said Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation. "The ongoing conservative revolution in this country is a revolution against the Nelson Rockefellers and Colin Powells of the world. The Americans who are working for that revolution are finished forever with politicians and would-be politicians who want to be something but stand for nothing."

Many of the speakers had previously expressed their opposition to a Powell candidacy. One voice added to the chorus was that of Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a mid-level Pentagon official during the Ronald Reagan Administration now associated with the Center for Security Policy.

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He said that after examining Powell's record as national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he concluded that Powell "would not make a good President or commander in chief."

He said that close scrutiny of Powell's performance "can only diminish the near-mythic reputation he enjoys today." Gaffney specifically cited Powell's opposition to missile-defense programs, his advocacy of sanctions rather than war against Iraq and his premature ending of the Persian Gulf War.

Ralph E. Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, did not appear but released a compilation of his recent remarks on Powell, which indicate that the general's support of abortion rights, gun control and affirmative action will make it difficult to win the support of his group's membership.

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