Lamar Alexander, an Asterisk Now, Lays Groundwork for '96

Article excerpt

Republicans have right now the elements of a good sentence: unity, coherence and emphasis. They stood around at their Christmas parties smiling at no one in particular. They have majorities in Congress, a leader and a mandate. Life is good.

They can even discuss their presidential possibilities with equanimity. This discussion is at the stage of being a mild intellectual exercise, like an after-supper game of checkers.

Colin Powell is much spoken of behind his back at holiday gatherings. There is Republican unanimity about him as the dream running mate for anyone they mention. They seem confident he is one of them, although he has never said so.

They talk about Lamar Alexander a lot. The former governor of Tennessee and former education secretary is thought to be making progress. One visible sign of it is that he has acquired Tom Rath, the genial Concord, N.H., lawyer and political junkie, as his man in New Hampshire. Rath, savvy and popular, in 1992 steered Sen. Bob Dole around the Granite State's primary.

Rath says his new job is no reflection on Dole, whom he regards as "an American hero," or on his chances. It's just that Alexander, a longtime personal friend who has been peddling his anti-Washington message around the country for several years, looks like a winner.

"He is a civil, decent person who is in sync with the country," he says.

Rath is the executive director of Alexander's PAC, Republicans for the '90s. He says Alexander can raise the $20 million needed for a candidacy. He has four former Republican National Committee finance chairmen helping him raise money.

The strategy is simple: Alexander wins the Iowa caucuses in Dole's back yard on Feb. 13, 1996. He has an organization going, headed by Dick Redman of Des Moines, a fixture in the state's Republican politics. Alexander gets what George Bush called "the big mo," roars into New Hampshire a week later, wins the nation's first primary and sweeps to glory.

"There's just one question for Republicans," says Redman. "Do you want a candidate from inside the Beltway or outside? Lamar is a storyteller and a listener as opposed to a preacher. …