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Lungren as Dole Running Mate? Some Can See It

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

It has been more than a year since Bob Dole first floated the name of California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren as a potential vice presidential running mate in what may have been purely a rhetorical lark.

But whether Dole was serious or not last June, Lungren’s name is still afloat. That, in itself, is something. And while skeptics argue that no one is likely to pick a state attorney general as his vice presidential candidate, the 49-year-old Lungren has emerged as a credible contender in the minds of many respected Republicans.

Lungren appeared with Dole during his three-day California swing that ended Wednesday. Dole greeted Lungren warmly, but at several stops, he deflected questions about Lungren as a possible running mate--as he does with any rumored candidate.

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He would only say that the selection process is getting started.

The Lungren-as-running-mate idea took life on a Dole trip to San Francisco in June 1995. Dole was asked by a reporter about the prospect of California Gov. Pete Wilson as a ticket mate in 1996.

Dole retorted: “What about Dan Lungren?”

Political analysts thought that, at best, it was a nice gesture to Lungren, the second-term California attorney general who--in a break with his own governor--was toiling hard on Dole’s behalf in California. But a state attorney general as a vice presidential candidate? Not likely, it seemed at the time.

More to the point was the fact that Wilson then was a rival of Dole for the Republican presidential nomination and Wilson had been harshly critical of Dole’s candidacy. Dole’s Lungren-for-veep comment was interpreted by many as merely a backhanded slap at Wilson.

But now it is less than two months to the start of the Republican National Convention in San Diego and Lungren remains in the thick of speculation about potential Dole running mates.

Two influential California Republicans, traveling with Dole this week and declining to be quoted by name, said Wednesday that they were dubious about Lungren’s candidacy and not at all certain he would be a finalist.

Lungren’s name is not necessarily on the top of anyone’s list, a spot usually reserved for Michigan Gov. John Engler. But Lungren consistently is mentioned as a possibility.

All of this is speculative, of course. The only list that really counts is Dole’s, and that is a well-guarded secret.

One California political strategist who doubts that lightning will strike Lungren is Garry South, a Democratic political consultant and aide to Lt. Gov. Gray Davis.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said South, who is preparing a Davis-for-governor race in 1998. “Nobody in the 49 other states knows who Lungren is.”

Dole’s mention of Lungren had nothing to do with Lungren, but was merely the Kansan’s way of zapping Wilson, South said. Now, he added, Lungren talk “has kind of taken on a life of its own.”

But a Dole-Lungren ticket makes sense to Donna Lucas, a Sacramento-based Republican consultant.

“He’s a hell of a campaigner,” Lucas said of Lungren. “He would help balance the ticket. He’s young. He’s dynamic. I think he could be a very strong complement to Dole.”

Lungren is a strong conservative, and unlike Wilson, is popular across the GOP philosophical spectrum in California, Lucas said.

“Lungren has that ability to reach out and talk to everybody. That is an incredible asset that Dole’s going to need,” Lucas said.

In Los Angeles last week, Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, said he thought Lungren might help Dole in a bid to carry California’s critical 54 electoral votes if Dole is able to mount a competitive challenge in the state. Dole has repeatedly vowed to make his California campaign a priority.

Reed, a strong Dole backer, rejected several of the common assumptions about what Dole needs to achieve in choosing a running mate: someone young to balance Dole’s age, a prominent governor or senator from a swing state, and a moderate on abortion who would appeal to disaffected Republican women.

Reed does not even accept the traditional tenet that a running mate at least should guarantee victory in his or her state. Any state Dole wins, he will have to win on his own, Reed said.

But Reed did say that Dole’s selection could make “a generational statement--pick someone who was either younger chronologically or younger in terms of demeanor or spirit or reputation.”

Lungren would meet that test on several points, say those who know him well. And a Dole-Lungren ticket would provide geographic variety from a state that is considered to be on the cutting edge of economic and social change.

Outwardly, Lungren has claimed only to be flattered and bemused by the attention.

Lungren has said he told his children it’s all right to clip the newspaper stories for their scrapbooks. Otherwise, he said: “Don’t hold your breath. It’s not likely to happen.”

Brian Lungren, the attorney general’s younger brother and chief political consultant, said last week: “The breath we are holding is for governor. We believe that we’re going to be the next governor of California.”

On the other hand, Dan Lungren has done nothing to discourage veep talk. And on occasion, Brian Lungren has distributed copies of Lungren-veep articles to political reporters to make sure they don’t miss any of them and, presumably, to keep the Lungren name in circulation.

Dan Lungren has raised about $900,000 for his planned 1998 campaign to succeed Wilson as governor of California. He has long been considered the natural successor to Wilson and to Lungren’s own political mentor, former Gov. George Deukmejian, at the top of the GOP ticket.

Lungren could campaign with Dole in 1996 without giving up his current post, where he is in mid-term. If the Republican ticket won, a Vice President Lungren could become the odds-on GOP favorite to succeed Dole after one or two terms.

If the ticket lost, Lungren still could emerge a winner if he ran a credible, energetic campaign. The exposure and prestige might boost his prospects for winning the governorship in 1998, and possibly for a presidential run in 2000 or 2004.

Lungren’s most obvious handicap is that he still is just an attorney general, the No. 3 position in the hierarchy of state executive offices.

There are, however, several factors that might offset Lungren’s stature problem:

* He earned considerable praise from Democrats as well as Republicans during his five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing portions of Long Beach, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and northern Orange County.

Congressman Lungren played a major role in reforming the federal criminal code and overhauling immigration laws. In 1988, the Almanac of American Politics described him as “one of the most legislatively accomplished of the young Republican members of Congress.”

* Even if he is not well known to the American electorate, Lungren is a familiar and well-liked figure within the GOP establishment nationally. Few voters know of Engler or others outside their home states.

* Lungren’s views on major issues, including abortion, appear to be compatible with Dole’s. Lungren is a Roman Catholic and is strongly opposed to abortion.

* Potentially most important, Lungren is well known to Dole and is someone Dole can trust, GOP insiders say. Lungren’s father was the White House surgeon to Richard Nixon, who was a close Dole ally. Dan Lungren worked as an aide at the Republican National Committee in Washington while Dole was Republican national chairman.

The early speculation on a Dole running mate hewed to the tradition of balancing the ticket philosophically, focusing on more moderate Republicans who supported a woman’s right to have an abortion.

But Reed said that if Dole wants to “energize the grass roots” of the Republican Party in the campaign, he will chose a running mate who is “consistent with his own views” on a variety of issues including abortion.


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