Oliver North Tests The Waters
By Jonathan Karl/CNN
WASHINGTON (Jan. 8) -- Oliver North, the ex-Marine of Iran-Contra fame,
is testing whether there might be enough support out there to launch a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
North took 30 well-heeled supporters to the Army-Navy football game last fall, with the kind of patriotic flair that has made him one of the nation's most effective political fund-raisers.
He is taking every opportunity to raise his profile.
Next week, North takes the fight to a political battlefield, New Hampshire, invited by the Christian Coalition. Aides say he is plotting a political comeback, even considering a run for president in 2000.
Friends may cheer, critics scoff and others may laugh, but North is getting serious about national politics.
"I've done a lot of fund-raisers for my party," North said. "Even though I am a radio broadcaster, I'm also -- I tell everybody every day -- I'm a card-carrying, practicing, conservative Republican."
North spends much of his time criss-crossing the country, stumping for Republican candidates. He likes what he sees.
"If you've got that kind of support out and around America, it does make you wonder how much more there might be for some other effort in the future," he said.
North has vowed not to run for anything until his daughter graduates from high school. That's in 1999. Until then...
"Look for me to continue to run, campaign hard for good people who are going to run for office," he said. "I've campaigned for people running for sheriff. I've campaigned for people running for mayor and city council and county board of supervisors."
Could he be a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination?
"North has a core of dedicated supporters who'd probably lie in front of a locomotive for him, but he doesn't have enough of them," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "There aren't enough in the party, there aren't enough in the Republican primaries to make him a serious presidential contender."
Memories of Iran-Contra drove away the Republican establishment, even after North captured Virginia's GOP Senate nomination in 1994. North lost to Democrat Chuck Robb by 3 points.
He lost a Senate race in one of the most conservative states in the country during the year of a Republican landslide, 1994. How could he gather support beyond Virginia?
"First of all, an enormous amount of my support came from beyond Virginia," North said. "I'm not talking about the big PAC checks. I mean, I had a very small average dollar donation. It was less, I think, than 20 dollars, if you go back and look at it -- 250,000 donors around the country that contributed to a $22 million campaign."
With 2.5 million weekly listeners, North's radio program recently cracked the top 10 in the nation. That's a potent political platform, but a far cry from running for president.
Asked if he could do the job, North said, "Lord knows, if Bill Clinton could do it, my dog could do it."
Those are harsh words, but then again, nobody's ever accused North of being a moderate.