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Gossip Begins Over Possible Feinstein Bid for President


Feinstein for president?

A smidgen of speculation was kicked up Monday when California's senior U.S. senator refused to rule out a potential bid for the White House in 2004. She didn't rule it in, either.

But in the odd ritual of presidential footsy, no can often be taken as maybe and maybe can be as good as yes.

At least it's not a no--which was just enough to set the political gossips to mongering.

The swirl started with Sunday's Parade magazine, which featured the Democrat and three other turbopowered women on a cover that asked the question, "Who will become president?"

Also on the cover--circulated to more than 37 million readers across the country--were fellow U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas); Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration's national security advisor and a talked-about candidate for U.S. Senate someday; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the House Democratic whip.

Discussing a potential presidential run, Dianne Feinstein said, "I'm not saying 'no'"--a surprising expression of heretofore unstated interest.

Asked Monday about the equivocal response, a spokesman pointed out that the Parade interview was done "several months ago."

That said, Feinstein continued to leave the proverbial door open a crack.

"I am not exploring running for another office at this time," Feinstein said in a statement released by her Senate office.

"I am working overtime as a United States senator on issues that concern me greatly."

She declined to be interviewed and a spokesman, Howard Gantman, refused to definitively rule out a run.

If she were to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, Feinstein would start far behind several Democratic rivals who have already established money-raising committees, given major political speeches and begun the ritual courtship of voters in the early balloting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Her age also could become an issue. "She'd be 71 years old before Democrats have their next convention," said Charles Cook, publisher of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and one of Washington's leading election handicappers. "She's potentially formidable, but that's a big problem."

Those close to Feinstein say she has long harbored dreams of being president--while at the same time abhorring the kind of nonstop campaigning it would require.

"I never got the impression she'd be willing to go through the torture of a presidential campaign when she has one of the best jobs in the world," said a close associate, who requested anonymity while discussing private discussions held with Feinstein over the years. "The positives of her current job seem to so outweigh the negatives."

At the same time, her associate said, Feinstein recognizes the added attention--and political clout--that attaches itself to a prospective presidential candidate (as opposed to a workaday U.S. senator). "Otherwise, you're just punching a time clock, waiting for your retirement to vest. She's not like that."

In 1984, Feinstein came close to joining the Democratic ticket of presidential nominee Walter Mondale, only to be passed over for then-N.Y. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro.

After serving two terms as San Francisco mayor, Feinstein lost a hard-fought contest for California governor in 1990. Two years later, she was elected to the U.S. Senate. She has been reelected twice; her current six-year terms ends in January 2007.

A Feinstein presidential run would follow a path pursued by another of California's senior senators.

The late Alan Cranston waged a 13-month-long campaign for president in 1984. He was 69 at the time and peaked with a victory over Mondale in a Wisconsin straw poll.

A few months later, Cranston quit the race after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and seventh in the New Hampshire primary. Two years later, he struggled to the narrowest reelection victory of his lengthy California political career.

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