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[Forbes]

Bloodied but Uncowed

What Steve Forbes is getting for all his money

By Richard Stengel/Albany

(TIME, March 18) -- A year from now, when Steve Forbes' accountant totals up his client's 1996 spending, he may just scratch his head over what Mr. Forbes got for his money. Well, for one thing, when tassel-loafered ad buyers climb the gangway of the Highlander, the Forbes Inc. yacht, they will probably think they're hobnobbing not with the shy, bespectacled son of a legendary hot-air-balloon-flying publisher but with a once and perhaps future presidential candidate. Forbes made the Oedipal analogy himself last week when he said, with a smile, that if he won the Connecticut primary, "I wouldn't need a balloon to get in the sky."

There was a curious moment last week when all the air seemed to ebb out of the Forbes balloon. On the night of Junior Tuesday, when Forbes finished second in Connecticut but no better than third in any other state, he and his campaign manager, Bill Dal Col, mused about a way for Forbes to persevere as a candidate of ideas without terminally alienating the Republican Party. Dal Col himself was mindful of the example of Jim Baker, George Bush's 1980 campaign manager, who yanked his eager candidate out of the race so that it would not poison Bush's chances of becoming Ronald Reagan's Vice President.

But on that bleak Tuesday last week, Forbes' natural optimism was rewarded: Jack Kemp, in bed with the flu, called to say that, yes, he would finally endorse his fellow progrowth traveler. Suddenly the hot air whooshed back into the Forbes campaign balloon. But Kemp then seemed to have second thoughts about his belated impulse. The day after he came aboard he was disturbed to learn that Forbes was planning a new round of negative ads. Kemp telephoned Dole headquarters, wanting to speak to the Senator. "The good news," said a top Dole fund raiser, "is that Dole has a short memory. He'll probably forgive Jack in about 50 years."

In the aftermath of Forbes' weak finish in the New York primary, he is in danger of becoming the flat-tax Don Quixote. Realistically, what Forbes seems to be seeking is no longer the nomination but vindication. What keeps Forbes spending is an almost mystical attachment to the flat tax. Recent attacks on it by Dole and his surrogates have made Forbes' blood boil. Through gritted teeth, he says they were "trampling on the flat tax for narrow, partisan purposes rather than having a clean, clear debate." Imagine that! And when he is not gallantly defending his 17% solution, Forbes shows signs of having "been bitten by the campaign bug," in the words of Republican strategist Ed Rollins. As though hiding a guilty pleasure, Forbes protests, "I would not portray it as going to an amusement park each day." Yet he is relishing the roller coaster and becoming much more assured as a candidate. The fellow who once shied away from crowds now eagerly wades into them. When leaving the Holiday Inn in Albany last week, after pumping the hands of supporters, he made a gracious detour to shake the hands of the self-conscious, red-smocked cleaning women who were huddled in a hallway.

Asked whether he would ever consider running for Governor or Senator, Forbes scoffs at the notion. "People would just assume it's a stepping stone, and they don't like that." In other words, run for the office you really want--which is just what Forbes might do again four years from now.

--With reporting by Hannah Bloch with Forbes



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