Front-Runners Emerge in '96 GOP Free-for-All Dan Quayle, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, and Patrick Buchanan Lead a Pack of Possible Republican Presidential Picks

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DAN QUAYLE will be going back to Indiana. Bob Dole is digging into his job as Senate minority leader. Patrick Buchanan may launch a conservative foundation. Jack Kemp's plans for the future are still wide open.

It's 206 weeks until the next presidential election - enough time to earn a college degree - but already eyes are turning to Vice President Quayle, Senator Dole, Mr. Buchanan, and Housing Secretary Kemp, four possible Republican front-runners for 1996.

Out of office for the first time in 12 years, Republicans are expecting a free-for-all in '96, with a wide range of possible candidates, from a conservative Christian entry like the Rev. Pat Robertson to a pro-choice alternative like Gov. William Weld of Massachusetts.

The list of potential GOP contenders reads like a "Who's Who" of Republican politics. There's Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, former Education Secretary William Bennett, White House chief of staff James Baker III, and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.

Other possibilities include Gov. Carroll Campbell of South Carolina, California Gov. Pete Wilson, Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, and former Gov. Pierre (Pete) du Pont IV of Delaware.

To that lengthy list, Governor du Pont adds: "And probably three we haven't thought of yet."

Although it's early, Republican politicians are already looking at the likely lineup because they will soon be selecting a new national party chairman. Insiders want someone who will remain neutral between all potential rivals.

Dole, who moved quickly to become the GOP's leading spokesman after President Bush's defeat, puts it this way: "I'm going to be very certain we get a chairman ... who has no ties to any candidate for '96."

At least two of the possible presidential candidates also are being mentioned for the chairman's post, which is now held by Richard Bond. They are Secretary Cheney and du Pont. Cheney is reportedly a favorite of House minority leader Robert Michel of Illinois.

Du Pont says the party chair "must not be a candidate for the presidential nomination." If he becomes chairman, du Pont promises he would "absolutely" be out of White House contention.

All this scrambling for position in 1996 would be much different if President Bush had won the election. Quayle, as vice president, would have been the acknowledged front-runner, with everyone else playing catch-up. …