Conservative economist Walter E. Williams says he's flattered at being urged to seek the 2008 Republican presidential nomination -- even if the draft committee is headed by a cartoon duck.
The "Mallard Fillmore" comic strip has spent the past two weeks promoting the George Mason University economics professor as a 2008 candidate -- with some success, judging from Mr. Williams' e-mail in-box.
"I've been inundated," the 70-year-old Mr. Williams said of responses to cartoonist Bruce Tinsley's strip, which has prominently featured Mr. Williams' e-mail address (email@example.com). "I've only gotten one or two ugly [e-mails], and I've gotten hundreds" of positive messages.
A popular syndicated columnist who often fills in for Rush Limbaugh when the top talk-radio host is on vacation, Mr. Williams said in a telephone interview that he was surprised when Mr. Tinsley began a series of "Draft Walter Williams" cartoons Jan. 29.
"I found it very funny, and I found it quite flattering as well," said Mr. Williams, whose column appears in The Washington Times, as does the "Mallard Fillmore" strip.
The idea for the series was simple, Mr. Tinsley said: Mr. Williams is "an actual conservative, and who better to run for elective office than somebody who's been writing his ideas down for us to read for years? He can't waffle. Also, Adam Smith and Bill Buckley weren't available."
Like many other conservatives, the Indiana-based cartoonist said he's less than enthusiastic about the current crop of Republican presidential contenders.
"Philosophical conservatives are tired of 'moderates,' who try to be all things to all people and end up pandering to those who wouldn't vote for them in a million years," Mr. Tinsley said in an e-mail. "Reagan was genuinely conservative, take it or leave it. And it worked."
While Mr. Tinsley said "maybe" he (and his cartoon alter-ego, Mallard) could support former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he said he was disappointed that Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, "has said unequivocally that he's not interested" in a 2008 White House bid.
"But I believe him, since he's one of the few legislators who seems to consistently mean what he says," Mr. Tinsley said.
Right now, however, Mr. Tinsley says he's "not giving up" on his campaign to promote the candidacy of Mr. Williams.
The George Mason professor says he shares Mr. Tinsley's disdain for career politicians.
"I personally think that if we chose the president of the United States at random, we'd get a better president than any president since Ronald Reagan," said Mr. Williams.
Mr. Williams' own '08 favorite is Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican and a 1988 Libertarian Party presidential nominee, who last month announced the formation of an exploratory committee.
"If the framers of the Constitution were somehow to come back, Ron Paul is one of possibly only three people in Congress that they'd even talk to," said Mr. Williams, adding that most politicians have a "generalized contempt" for the values of the Constitution.
The biggest obstacle to his own candidacy, Mr. Williams said, is his wife of 47 years, Conchetta.
"She said that if I ever thought about it seriously, she'd assassinate me," he said.
While his age (he'll turn 71 next month) might seem a problem to a presidential run, Mr. Williams says he is in excellent health, thanks to a regimen that includes a personal trainer, bicycling, two glasses of wine each day -- and smoking half a pack of cigarettes daily. "My grandfather smoked a pack of Camels a day, drank almost a half-pint of Old Grandad every day and died when he was 94," he said.
Though he has no plans for trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Williams would not completely rule out a 2008 run for the White House.
"I've learned that one should always keep his options open," he said. "You should never say never, but I haven't gone to the trouble of forming an exploratory committee."