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Powell: No. 1 For No. 2

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

(TIME, March 18) -- Pat Buchanan knows he can't beat BoB Dole, so he's picking a new fight--with Colin Powell. Sipping from a Styrofoam cup of Chardonnay during a late-night flight to Knoxville, Tennessee, last week, Buchanan told TIME, "If Dole wins the nomination and chooses Colin Powell as his running mate, the right-to-life movement will walk out of the convention, a good part of the Christian Coalition will walk, and the principled conservatives will battle" the Powell choice. Chief among them, he promises, will be Pat Buchanan.

In which case, Buchanan, who has already infuriated Republican leaders by his refusal to tone down his attacks on Dole, will also be pitting himself against the potential running mate who could do the most for the Republican ticket. Party elders know that Powell would bring Dole's campaign some much needed star quality, along with a hefty share of the black and moderate vote. When it comes to the vice presidency, says a senior Dole aide, "Powell is our first five choices."

A lot of voters seem to feel the same way. The latest TIME/CNN poll suggests that if the election were held now, Clinton would beat Dole, 49% to 40%. Add the retired general to the ticket, however, and it's Dole-Powell over Clinton-Gore, 47% to 45%. Meanwhile, the political cost to Dole of a pro-choice running mate would appear to be manageable. Despite Buchanan's threats to rock the convention if Dole taps Powell, or any other pro-choice possibility, less than a quarter of Republicans surveyed would make abortion a litmus-test issue for their vice-presidential nominee. Only 12% would be less inclined to vote Republican if Powell, for instance, were No. 2. But 62% of independents and 38% of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote Republican if Powell were on the ticket.

For his part, Powell has spoken out against Buchananism while others in the party remained silent. Such aggressiveness has given some of Dole's team hope that the general might be angry enough to accept their entreaties to get on board. People close to the general think otherwise. Michael Powell, his son, told TIME that it is "farfetched to think Pat Buchanan's presence will make him want to put on the armor and come rolling in." If so, this would be one fight that Buchanan wins by a forfeiture.

--By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum. With reporting by J.F.O. McAllister/Washington and Eric Pooley/New York



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