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A Part of Powell Remains in Race : His legacy in ’96 may be elevation of moral tone

Next year’s presidential primary and national election campaigns have become considerably more predictable and certainly less interesting with Colin Powell’s announcement that he lacks the “passion and commitment” for political life and so will not seek the presidency. That decision disappoints many Americans, even as it visibly cheers Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the leading GOP candidate, and President Clinton, who apparently will be renominated by the Democrats without opposition. Polls suggest Powell could handily best both Dole and Clinton. As one relieved Clinton aide put it, “We’ve dodged the big bullet.”

ORGANIZING BURDEN: Of course, Powell would have faced major obstacles had he sought the Republican nomination. He probably could have quickly raised the tens of millions of dollars deemed necessary just for campaigning before the nominating convention. But it would have been a struggle to put together in just a few months the kind of organization required to make respectable primary showings and line up convention delegates. Dole is the leading GOP candidate not by accident but because he has been campaigning for president a long time. His pockets bulge with political IOUs. He is fortunate too, this time around, in having opponents unburdened by any excess of charisma.

Powell could have faced added difficulties because of his moderate positions on such issues as gun control, abortion rights and affirmative action, a moderation regarded as anathema by many who will vote in next year’s Republican primaries and be delegates to the nominating convention. Powell has had the support of some Republicans with impeccable conservative credentials, among them former Cabinet officers William Bennett and Jack Kemp and William Kristol, one of the party’s leading intellectuals. He has also, especially in recent weeks, drawn a lot of fire and vitriol from the far right, a foretaste of what he could have expected had he chosen to run.

PUBLIC ADMIRATION: Those seeking to identify the reasons for Powell’s broad appeal need look no further than his announcement Wednesday taking himself out of the race. His deep and unaffected patriotism, his belief in the promise and rewards of America, his honest and admirable conclusion that his family’s welfare must be his first consideration, his conviction that he has a “bond of trust” with the American people--all these define an exceptional man and virtually assure that the 58-year-old former general will find other ways to put his talents at the service of the nation.

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A public that has grown weary of the dodges, the cynicism, the contextual evasiveness, the increasing nastiness of conventional politics sensed Powell’s qualities early on. Simply by offering himself as a candidate in next year’s primaries and by being himself, Colin Powell may have raised the moral and intellectual tone of the campaign. Let no one doubt the American voter’s continued yearning for such a change.


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