Questions Washington Is Asking

LET'S look at some of the questions being raised in this presidential race and then supply the best answers we can come up with:

Q: Will George Bush once again reorganize his campaign staff?

A: There's talk of this now among presidential aides who feel a change is necessary. They usually say that what the president needs is to have Secretary of State James Baker III at his side, helping him in making political and policy decisions.

President Bush and Mr. Baker chat frequently. Most of their conversation is on foreign policy. But no one can doubt that Bush leans on his former campaign manager for advice on political matters.

The other morning over breakfast the president's pollster and adviser, Robert Teeter, said that under no circumstances would Baker leave his post at State to play a top role in the campaign.

But Mr. Teeter conceded, under questioning, that Bush and Baker did have these private chats.

Q: Will the president carry on an intensive post-convention campaign all around the United States or will he, like Richard Nixon in 1972, stay close to the White House Rose Garden during that period?

A: Teeter said that this was a decision that "depended on circumstances." But I find it hard to imagine that the president won't be asking Baker what strategy he would recommend.

Further, Bush will undoubtedly ask Baker's advice on debates.

Q: But will Bush bring someone else in to provide hands-on top management of his campaign?

A: One of the president's advisers told me that Defense Secretary Dick Cheney might come over from the Pentagon to fill that spot. I was following up reports of this possible move.

This source spoke of how well Mr. Cheney had functioned years ago when, as President Ford's chief of staff, he shaped a campaign that brought Mr. Ford, with a popularity rating of just 33 percent, up to the place where he was able to take the nomination away from Ronald Reagan and then come within a hair of beating Jimmy Carter.

Under this arrangement, this adviser said, Cheney would probably be given the "political director" title - with Sam Skinner remaining on as chief of staff.

Q: Is Hillary Clinton an asset to the Clinton campaign?

A: The jury is still out, but she's been an embarrassment, particularly with her "cookie-making" reference to homemakers. Although not diplomatic, she is highly intelligent and articulate.

Bill Clinton in accepting our invitation to come to breakfast last September asked if he could bring his wife with him. Jimmy Carter had brought Rosalynn with him when he met with our breakfast group at the beginning of his quest for the presidency. On that particular morning, Mrs. Carter had sat silently at Jimmy's side.

But Hillary had come with Bill that morning for a reason, to nod confirmingly when her husband told of a relationship that had been strained at times but now was strong.

We later learned how well Rosalynn Carter could handle herself when speaking, especially on television. She also told in her biography how she had been a shy girl and how difficult it had been for her to speak in public.

Attorney Hillary Clinton certainly isn't shy. She obviously is ready to make a well-argued speech at the drop of a hat. I'd love to see her debate. My idea of a fun debate would pit Hillary against attorney Marilyn Quayle. I'm not sure which of these brainy women would win.

Q: Is there a better way of picking our presidential candidates?

A: Many Democratic leaders today are longing for the days of the "smoke-filled room" - when the Democrats seemed better able to come up with strong candidates. They look critically at the reforms of the 1970s that have brought a proliferation of primaries but just one winning candidate - Jimmy Carter.

Were these still the bad, old days - it can be argued - it would not be too late for the political leaders, who pretty much had a lock on the nomination process, to pick someone other than the present crop of candidates, someone who would be more likely to defeat a president who appears to be vulnerable.

Q: Who is the most likely running mate of Bill Clinton?

A: Why not Jay Rockefeller? He's really a Northerner even though a West Virginia senator. Also, with Rockefeller as his running mate, Clinton would get Sharon Rockefeller, too. This daughter of former Sen. Charles Percy is dynamite as a campaigner.

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