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THE POWELL ANNOUNCEMENT : Local Members of Both Parties Cheer Powell Decision

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell’s announcement that he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination but would seek to fulfill his public-policy goals through the Republican Party gave San Fernando Valley political observers and players in both parties reason to cheer.

“He would’ve been a helluva candidate, and as a supporter of President Clinton, I can say honestly that I’m relieved that the general’s not running,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City).

“Powell provides Republicans with a high-profile minority figure who can possibly bring others into the party,” said Paul Clarke, a corporate political consultant and veteran GOP activist.

The reactions came Wednesday after Powell announced during a Washington news conference that he would not seek the GOP nomination but would seek to reform and revitalize his chosen party. “I believe I can help the party of Lincoln move once again closer to the spirit of Lincoln,” he said.

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Powell’s decision was quickly pounced on by local political figures.

Berman, a veteran lawmaker, said Powell’s statement clearly makes Clinton the front-runner. With the former Joint Chiefs chairman out of the way, “Bill Clinton is now the man to beat,” he said.

Some polls showed Powell easily defeating Clinton in a head-to-head race, a feat that none of the Republican presidential hopefuls have matched.

Meanwhile, some Republicans were rejoicing that Powell had so openly embraced their camp.

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“He could have talked about providing public-policy leadership as a retired general; instead he talked about providing it as a Republican,” said Clarke, the husband of former GOP congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler. “With today’s announcement, he’s now wearing his Republicanism on his sleeve.”

That should give a boost to GOP efforts to appeal to and recruit minorities, Clarke predicted. “In terms of minority groups, it’s been taken for granted for decades that they would be Democrats. But Powell changes that,” Clarke said.

Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) took a slightly different view of Powell’s announcement. Although a supporter of Kansas Sen. Bob Dole’s presidential bid, McKeon said he had welcomed a Powell challenge.

“It would have been good for the party to have a debate,” McKeon said. “I think it would have expanded the party’s base and broken the mold.”

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Even without his candidacy, however, McKeon said Powell’s presence in GOP ranks will “bring more blacks and moderates into the party. . . . I think he’ll be a force for good for the party.

“I guess I am a ‘big tent’ Republican,” McKeon added, referring to the moderate wing of the GOP that believes the party needs to accept pro-choice, gay and gun-control advocates.

But former GOP Assemblyman Tom McClintock, a conservative who ran against Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) in 1992, said Powell’s leadership would be a tougher sell among the GOP’s rock-ribbed element. “I was disappointed, for example, that he was unable to summon up any serious criticism of the Million Man March and the Rev. [Louis] Farrakhan,” said McClintock.

“He was faced with a clear moral issue and he couldn’t summon up the courage to denounce racism.”

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McClintock also dismissed the view that the GOP may need to shift in order to fully accommodate Powell’s views on such issues as women’s rights and welfare reform. At his news conference, the general said he hopes the party will adopt a more humane attitude toward altering the welfare system and affirmative-action policies.

“The Republican Party is already embracing blacks--some of the nation’s leading black intellectuals are already with us because they know that the welfare state constructed by Democrats is bankrupt,” McClintock said.


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