Many GOPers Already Eyeing 2008 Nomination

New York, N.Y.–Republicans gathered here to re-nominate George W. Bush last week and to rally for his last campaign for the presidency. But it was increasingly obvious as the week went by that a platoon of Republican office-holders who would like Bush’s job in four years were already beginning their courtship of potential delegates to the next national convention. If Bush is re-elected, 2008 will be the first election since 1952 when the Vice President of a lame duck President will not be the heir apparent for the nomination to succeed him. That points to a hotly contested Republican presidential primary season–beginning in just two years. At least 11 Republicans were being mentioned around New York last week as potential candidates for 2008 and some were already acting like candidates. Two New Yorkers with White House ambitions, Gov. George Pataki and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, addressed delegates from Iowa and New Hampshire, the respective sites of the first caucuses and first primary. Virginia Sen. George Allen, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, made the rounds of state delegations, including those from South Dakota and California. “We have been very well-attended,” New Hampshire GOP National Committeeman Tom Rath said of his state’s convention delegation. Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) both met with New Hampshire delegates on Monday. Hagel, who has occasionally irked conservatives with such stands as backing John McCain over Bush in 2000 or voting for McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform,” and pushing trade with Castro’s Cuba, has signaled to friends he will at least go through the exploratory stage of a 2008 presidential campaign. Although, he cautioned, “it’s too early to talk about ’08,” Nebraska’s GOP National Committeeman Duane Acklie told HUMAN EVENTS on the convention floor Tuesday evening, “Chuck will probably be exploring in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let’s wait and see.” Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former presidential candidate, said he had had one meeting with Frist about a presidential bid and “will support him if he runs. He’s got a wonderful story–his vacation is performing surgery in Sudan–and he has conservative principles with a moderate disposition.” “I feel like I know a corner of Iowa,” Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a breakfast meeting of Iowa delegates on Tuesday, recalling trips he made to the state in his first jobs after business school. The former Winter Olympics head also is scheduled to speak at the Iowa Republican Party’s annual Ronald Reagan dinner this October. Asked about potential favorites for 2008, Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah said: “I would have to have Mitt Romney high on my list. He has a lot of friends in Utah [site of the Winter Olympics] and his father was pretty highly regarded in our state.” Less visible but also mentioned for the race are Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, both strong conservatives, and also less conservative Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and political unknown NATO Supreme Commander Gen. James Jones. Hanging over the “exploratory” efforts to succeed Bush is the fact that convention delegates remain increasingly conservative and that at least three of the prospective candidates–Giuliani, Pataki, and Romney–hold decidedly non-conservative views on social issues. As veteran North Dakota State Rep. Gene Nicholas told us, “There are a lot of good folks out there, like Giuliani or Pataki, but the nominee is going to have to be a conservative–like, say, Rick Santorum.” Former Nebraska State Party Chairman Chuck Sigerson said: “Forget about Giuliani or Pataki. The nominee has to be conservative and pro-life.”