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Deukmejian Solicits Bush’s Advice on Favorite-Son Bid

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Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian asked Vice President George Bush for advice Monday on whether he should become a favorite-son presidential candidate, assuring Bush that this would not be a serious White House bid.

Bush listened carefully to the governor’s explanation of why he is contemplating the move and said he appreciated the candor. But Bush offered no advice, saying he would get back to the governor after he had thought about it more.

“The vice president indicated that he fully understands and respects the governor’s desire to look at the favorite-son alternative,” reported Craig L. Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, who sat in on the half-hour session.

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However, according to other participants in the meeting held in the vice president’s office, Bush also indicated that he wants to fully understand what all the implications would be for his own 1988 presidential bid before advising Deukmejian about running in the California primary as a favorite son.

Deukmejian, according to people present, gave Bush the same rationale for a favorite-son candidacy as he has given the public: Mainly, that it could provide the ultimate Republican presidential nominee with a leg up on carrying California in the general election by preserving party unity in the primary.

The theory is that the other candidates--such as Bush, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York--would stand aside and allow Deukmejian to run by himself in the GOP primary. Then, the governor later would turn over California’s delegate votes--the largest bloc at the GOP convention--to the candidate of his choice.

But the problem--as Deukmejian found Monday in talking with Bush and as his advisers have been told by strategists for other candidates--is that the serious candidates probably will never give a commitment to stay out of California’s primary. It is the biggest in the nation and it is winner-take-all.

“The way the vice president sees it,” according to one Bush strategist, who did not want to be identified, “is that this is his last shot (at the presidency). If California is regarded as crucial, it will be hard to refrain from getting in.”

Bush asked Deukmejian a lot of detailed questions about deadlines and procedures for the June 7 primary--such as the date for getting on or off the ballot. Actually, the California secretary of state, Democrat March Fong Eu, will have more to say about that than any of the GOP contenders.

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Under California law, the secretary of state must determine by Feb. 1--before any primary has been held anywhere--who the serious candidates are, and they must all go on the ballot. She has until the first week in April to alter the list, based on who no longer is serious or who may have since become serious. So real candidates will be on the ballot, even if there is a favorite son. The only question is how much, if any, they will campaign for votes.

“The governor is concerned about getting in it and finding everybody running and being beaten and embarrassed,” said a consultant for one candidate, who has conferred with Deukmejian chief of staff Steven Merksamer. “I don’t think they can get everyone to stay out.”

Steppingstone

Deukmejian emphasized to Bush that he would not try to use a favorite-son candidacy as a steppingstone to the presidential nomination, or as leverage to finesse the second spot on the ticket. Bush replied that he appreciated that.

Deukmejian also said he would not use a favorite-son bid as a ploy to help a particular candidate. However, the vice president and the governor are relatively close politically--much closer than Deukmejian is to the other candidates. And Bush made it clear that he would rather have the popular Californian do something that would help his candidacy.

“Certainly, the vice president would welcome Gov. Deukmejian’s support sometime in the future,” Fuller said. “He’ll leave the timing to him.”

Deukmejian, here to attend the National Governors Conference, also met Monday with Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge on trade issues. He also accompanied all the governors to the White House to confer with President Reagan on domestic policy, particularly welfare.

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