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Inside Politics

A president's passing could mean boost for Bush

A fellow veteran as running mate for Kerry?

Americans who see similarities between presidents Reagan and Bush may help the current president's standing in the polls.
Watch Carlos Watson Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CNN's Paula Zahn Now and on Fridays at 5 p.m. ET on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports.
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
Max Cleland
Ronald Wilson Reagan

This week in the Inside Edge, how President Reagan's death may play into the election, why John Kerry might choose a fellow veteran as running mate and which Southern state to watch this summer.

A Reagan rally

Expect a troika of recent events to lift President Bush's stagnant poll numbers.

First, Iraq has been moved out of the news headlines by a variety of factors, including the start of summer, Iraq fatigue among many readers, and the anniversary of D-Day.

Second, with more than 1 million new jobs created this year, more Americans are beginning to feel optimistic about an improving economy -- even with high gas prices and a net loss of jobs over the last three years.

The first two factors alone probably would have helped to stabilize President Bush's poll numbers. But as June turns into July, expect Bush to benefit significantly from a third and unpredicted factor -- President Reagan's remembrance.

As sentimental Americans say goodbye to one tough-talking and hugely popular president, many of them (especially Independents and former Reagan Democrats) will likely associate the current president with the Reagan legacy. And this affiliation, spanning two generations and three presidents, will help push Bush higher in the polls.

So absent some catastrophic event, expect to hear upcoming stories about President Bush's new momentum and his new lead in the polls.

Veteran firepower

He would be as improbable a choice as any of the nine potential VP candidates that I have profiled thus far. But then again, much of his life has been an unlikely story.

Over a period of 40 years, Max Cleland went from idealistic college student to triple amputee and war hero to U.S. senator. Just as his star seemed to be rising on the national political stage, he lost his Senate seat in 2002 in the aftermath of September 11.

In a bitter race filled with vitriol, his opponent attacked Cleland's commitment to national security with ads that pictured Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. After much despair over his loss, Cleland married, got the wind back into his sails, and found his political footing again as one of John Kerry's staunchest defenders during the pivotal Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and other early contests.

Now some wonder whether John Kerry could defy conventional wisdom again by choosing Cleland as his running mate. In choosing a fellow decorated Vietnam vet, Kerry would perhaps solidify his support among veterans, particularly white male veterans in the South and border states. Bill Clinton employed a similar strategy in choosing Al Gore, another young, white male moderate Southerner, as his running mate in 1992.

Cleland's detractors will point out that he only won one term as senator and may not even help Kerry win his home state of Georgia. But like George W. Bush's selection of Dick Cheney in 2000, this unconventional choice would provide the nominee with an unequivocal "friend in his corner," a comfort choice if you will.

I'm still betting on Edwards, Clark or Gephardt, but I'm keeping Max Cleland on my long list.

An interesting race in Georgia

If you want to follow perhaps the most interesting Senate race in the country, keep your eye on Georgia.

While the July 20 party primaries will be loaded with interesting match-ups and races, the Georgia contest may ultimately offer the nation's first-ever senatorial contest between two African-Americans.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Denise Majette, a Yale-educated congresswoman and former judge, may win her party's nomination. And on the Republican side, former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain, could pull off one of the greatest political upsets of the year if he takes the Republican Party nomination from two well-known congressmen.

Majette has real competition in millionaire Cliff Oxford. If she wins her party's nomination for U.S. Senate, she would be the first African-American to do so from Georgia. This would be no small feat even considering that as much as half of the electorate will be African-Americans who are familiar with Majette's name and impressive resume.

On the other side, political newcomer Cain would likely have to rely on rock solid support from white evangelical Christians to win the nomination, much like the support that almost propelled Bobbi Jindal, an Indian-American Republican, to the Louisiana governor's mansion last year.

In addition to religious conservative support, Cain, a strong speaker and gifted campaigner, has also gained the valuable backing of the economically conservative Club for Growth. You may recall that I wrote about the relatively new advocacy group several months ago and their rapid emergence as a power in Republican Party politics.

Before they get a chance to face off in a general election, however, Cain and Majette may both have to endure run-offs within their own party. But if they make it, the land of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may make history once again.

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