'Stealth' Candidates Being Maneuvers

Article excerpt

Dissatisfaction within the electorate toward both the Republican and Democratic parties has created an opportunity for third-party candidates to emerge as viable alternatives.

Whoever wins the GOP presidential nomination will face the Democrats' nominee in 1996 -- almost certainly Bill Clinton. But there are other, third-party candidates who could add another element to the race. Retired Gen. Colin Powell, for example, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is an oft-mentioned candidate both parties would love to have on their team.

Former Democratic senator and presidential contender Paul Tongas, who now heads the government-reform-minded Concord Coalition, wants Powell to represent a new party that embodies the Concord platform: radical campaign-finance reform, emphatic on a balanced budget, conservative and free-market on economics and progressive-to-liberal on social issues. And Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas recently said on NBC's Meet the Press that he was considering Powell as a running mate in his own bid for the highest office. Indeed, every time Powell's name comes up, both Democrats and Republicans outdo each other in claiming him as their own.

It's easy to see why. Powell has great name recognition, enjoys a trust and respect among the public that few politicians do and is certain to bring in a fair chunk of the black vote (a prospect particularly attractive to Republicans). Powell is wildly popular with white voters (in a Times-Mirror poll early this year, they selected him over Clinton 54 percent to 39 percent), whereas black voters tend to regard him, as a potential Republican, with more wariness. (The same poll gave Clinton 60 percent of the black vote to Powell's 29.)

As for Powell's politics, those remain unstated -- by Powell, anyway. Republicans look to his military background, his praise for free-market economics, his frequent talk of values and self-sufficiency and his bootstrapping personal history as signs of a Republican bent. But Powell is openly prochoice, donated money to the campaigns of Democrat L. Douglas Wilder (a former governor of Virginia) and Independent J. Marshall Coleman (who ran for the Senate from Virginia) and has not allied himself with any prominent Republicans. Indeed, New York writer Deroy Murdock has noted that Powell tends to pal around with well-known Democrats and calls the general "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a uniform."

Not a riddle, but equally curious, is perennial presidential pixie Ross Perot. Perot does not have a separate political party but runs purely as an independent representing his grassroots organization United We Stand. Perot claims he has no further political aspirations, but given his fondness for last-minute surprises, his supporters are hopeful that he will emerge for a second run. And some of his recent activities show that he, too, knows how to mobilize his forces. in February, United We Stand began a mail blitz of Congress, firing off letters and faxes to lawmakers asking hard questions about the bailout of the Mexican peso. And Perot has joined the talk-show kaffeeklatsch with a new radio show called Listening to America.

Perot certainly is famous for his charts, grating voice and homespun wisdom, all pointing to one goal: getting rid of the budget deficit. The budget is still his favorite theme, but his fervent opposition to the North American Free bade Agreement and his insistence that government needs to be the size of, and run like, a profit-making company, are emerging political platforms. …