- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NEW YORK — Delegates and Republican officeholders here already are thinking about the 2008 campaign, with governors and the popular former mayor of New York leading the buzz.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, who received a rapturous welcome from delegates last night, became a national star among Republicans with his tough-on-crime record as mayor of the nation’s largest city and his in-charge performance during the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“Giuliani has got to be the sentimental favorite here,” said Louisiana delegate and state party treasurer Charlie Buckels.

Mr. Giuliani also has won admirers by crossing the country on behalf of President Bush, despite the two men’s differences on social issues.

Besides Mr. Giuliani, the names coming most from delegates here include Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and New York Gov. George E. Pataki, although activists generally agreed that there was no obvious star on the bench, as Ronald Reagan was in the late 1970s.

Pennsylvania delegate Ken Winger summed up the view of many delegates: “The nominee would be a governor none of us has thought of yet.”

The talk of the delegates here is the new, vastly slimmed down Mr. Huckabee, who lost so much weight that many here who hadn’t seen the Arkansas governor in a while did double takes.

Mr. Huckabee leaves office in January 2007, about the right time to make a nomination run and still be thought of as a governor. He has scheduled interviews with reporters while attending the convention, but, standing with his delegation yesterday, averred that his only concern was getting the president re-elected.

But, “I don’t want to rule anything out at this moment,” he added.

“There are probably at least 15 people who are preparing to make a run, including Huckabee,” said former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who also has been traveling across the country to address Republican audiences, giving friends the distinct impression that he is getting ready to run.

Mr. Pataki, who has raised big money for Mr. Bush and the party, sits fine with pro-business Republicans, but not with religious and social conservatives.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson of California said a candidate resembling Mr. Pataki, if he could get pro-life Republicans not to take a walk, would bring two of the three biggest electoral college states into the Republican column: New York and California, along with Oregon and Washington, and most of New England, and cement the Republican advantage in Florida.

Mr. Romney, a Mormon originally from Michigan who won in one of the nation’s most liberal states, is another name that came up often on the floor yesterday.

“I’m telling you right now he’s getting ready to run,” a lobbyist who deals with Mr. Romney said privately.

The only Republican to whom delegates on the convention floor yesterday attached the term “superstar” is Mr. Owens, who has established a reputation for being well-spoken, pro-life and pro-business.

“He looks like a superstar and is solid on all the conservative issues,” Mr. Buckels said.

Louisiana delegate George White, a longtime conservative activist, said he heard Mr. Owens give a speech in Louisiana and “thought he sounded great, but so many people could come out of the woodwork — four years is a long time.”

Mr. Owens, who has managed to press all the buttons for conservative activists across the country, quietly was letting it be known a couple years ago that he was in the presidential nomination hunt for 2008. But when marital difficulties surfaced, he took himself out for a while. But sources close to him say he’s back in.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was mentioned by many delegates on the convention floor yesterday, with some saying he was the odds-on favorite for 2008 and others said he would be the front-runner but for his last name.

“It’s not going to be another Bush, I can tell you that — Republicans are chary of dynasties,” Mr. White said.

Arizona delegate Mike Hellon said, “If Jeb Bush’s name were something other than Bush, I would have included him in the list for 2008, but Republicans in America don’t like a dynasty, so I think that would be a problem for him.”

But Mr. Buckels of Louisiana, after praising Mr. Owens, hastened to add: “Of course, you can’t rule out Jeb Bush, there’s no doubt about that.”

A surprise name was Arizona Sen. John McCain, despite his disagreements with most in his party on campaign-finance regulations and a host of other topics.

“Our people have told me they think the reason John McCain has been cooperating with the president so much is that he wants to run again, which I think will come as a surprise to many of my fellow Republicans,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Some delegates noted that Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite of some conservatives, has been quietly traveling abroad to burnish his foreign-policy credentials and is working closely with the Christian conservative community.

One surprise came with how few delegates mentioned another popular former Virginia governor, Sen. George Allen, who has been a staunch Bush loyalist in the Senate.

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