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A presidential odds couple

Political junkies in Washington are fantasizing about a Clinton-Rice contest in '08.

November 26, 2002|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

Washington — Washington

It's the ultimate inside-the-Beltway fantasy, a political tease too titillating to surrender, because it ends with the prospect of two women running against one another for president of the United States in 2008.

Or, in some scripts, it ends with the clash of two dynasties, a titanic grudge match that will determine the most powerful family in the most powerful nation on the planet.

Plot too tired, movie been done?

Well maybe in Hollywood, but in Washington, fantasy politics is all the buzz. Now that the midterm elections are history (except in Louisiana, where campaign-o-holics have managed to drag out their elections into the Christmas shopping season), politicos are only too happy to salivate over the contests to come. Like rotisserie baseball, presidential scenario-spinning requires a few leaps of faith and the usual creative mind. After that, it's all delicious speculation.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 10 inches; 369 words Type of Material: Correction
U.S. senator -- In a story in Tuesday's Calendar section about the possibility of Hillary Clinton running against Condoleezza Rice for president in 2008, the last name of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was misspelled as Hutchinson.

Scenario One: Democrats rally around Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as their presidential candidate in 2008, after she is reelected in a roar from New York in 2006.

President Bush attempts to preempt Hillary's expected star-power run with a trump card of his own, naming national security advisor Condoleezza Rice as his vice presidential running mate in 2004.

Bush-Rice triumphs at the polls, making Rice the first woman and the first African American to be vice president. Then in 2008, it's Hillary vs. Condi.

Never mind that Rice, a Soviet scholar from Stanford University who is Bush's top advisor on foreign policy, has never held elective office, has little policy portfolio on domestic issues and claims not to be interested in the position. Or that the job she says she really hungers for after life in the White House is commissioner of the National Football League. Or that she is believed to be pro-choice on abortion in a party where that is a hurdle to high office. Already, a new Web site is urging her to run (seattlewebservices.com/rice), and chat rooms regularly dissect the prospect. Scenario Two: Jeb Bush leaves office triumphant after his second term as governor of Florida in 2006 and decides to carry the family mantle into the 2008 presidential race, this time against Hillary Clinton.

"The Shakespearean scenario," said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster in California. "A former first lady running against the first brother with two former presidents in the wings, neither particularly old or disheveled. And then there'd be Barbara Bush off in the corner somewhere with a voodoo doll."

Groan if you must, but political junkies love this stuff. They have already handicapped the odds, and, depending on who is talking, Hillary's run is a sure bet and Condi's is a longshot.

President Bush seemed to dash hopes for the first scenario. "Should I decide to run," he intoned recently during a press conference, "Vice President Cheney will be my running mate."

But this being Washington no one believed him. Cheney's health problems (he has had four heart attacks starting at age 37, a quadruple heart bypass operation and now wears an implant), only fuel the speculation.

And Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of the conservative Washington Times, is convinced that Republican Party elders will force Cheney off the ticket.

"Cheney will want to stay on and Bush will want him to stay," he explained. "But national Republicans will implore Bush to put on the ticket somebody who can be the standard bearer in 2008. To give up that advantage would be painful."

Blankley admits that Bush will resist the pressure. And Cheney himself is perhaps the first vice president in history who actually likes his job, which John Nance Garner, FDR's first veep, once likened to a bucket of warm spit (actually he said something a bit more graphic).

Still, the scenario beckons.

"I'm betting on a Bush-Rice ticket in 2004," said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, who has been pushing the idea since March. "Bush is a bit of a gambler politically."

To Kristol and other Republican cheerleaders, a Rice candidacy is enticing because it offers promise of crossover appeal to black voters who would otherwise vote Democratic. No one is really sure if this will work -- it did not seem to help Democrats win more Jewish votes than usual when Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) was Al Gore's vice presidential candidate in 2000 -- but pundits who play the fantasy game love to toss this one around.

"It depends on the issue mix," said Kristol.

"Generally black conservatives in the past have not been able to attract black Democratic votes. It suggests that ideology really is more important than race identity."

Maybe, but some Democrats worry that Hillary Clinton's high negatives and a Condi Rice candidacy bathed in the aura of historic destiny could combine to give Republicans the edge.

"I don't like that matchup," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a Democratic pollster. "We lose."

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