NEW YORK — THE was born with the proverbial "silver spoon" in his mouth. He has a college named after him at Princeton University. And, for enjoyment - don't yawn - he loves to debate public policy.
Now, Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. is thinking about running for president. The millionaire president of Forbes Inc., parent of Forbes magazine, says he will make up his mind by September whether to become yet another Republican trying to win the nomination for the 1996 election.
Mr. Forbes, a resident of rural Bedminister, N.J., got a taste of politics in 1993 when he was an adviser to then-candidate, now governor, Christine Todd Whitman. Since December of that year, Forbes has been chairman of Empower America, a conservative organization that includes such politicians as Jack Kemp and William Bennett.
Empower's President Bill Da Coll says Forbes calls him five or six times a day, seven days a week, to discuss such issues as health care, defense procurement, or the return to the gold standard.
At Empower, Forbes has pushed the conservative message hard. This year Forbes urged Empower to employ "strategic" media buying in purchasing ad space on Cable News Network before and after President Clinton's State of the Union address. The group's message: the flat tax. It has also bought radio time with the same message in New Hampshire and Iowa. "Now all the candidates are on board for a flat tax," Mr. Da Coll says.
Although Empower may have some influence with the cadre of candidates, veteran political observers say Forbes's odds of winning the Republican nomination are slim. "He may have the money, but he has no field organization, no name recognition, and no chance," says Cliff Zukin, a professor of political science at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
If Forbes thinks voters will recognize his name because of the family magazine, Mr. Zukin says he is mistaken. An October 1994 poll by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press found only 5 percent of rank-and-file voters regularly read a business magazine such as Fortune or Forbes.
Political ambition is not new in the Forbes family. Malcolm S. Forbes Sr., who died in 1990, was in the New Jersey Legislature for six years. In 1957, he ran for governor, but lost to Democrat Robert Meyner.
After his political adventure, Forbes Sr. became well- known for spending money on himself. He would entertain potential advertisers on his large yacht, Highlander. For his 70th birthday, he flew 1,000 guests to Tangier, Morocco.
In 1984, Malcolm donated $3 million to Princeton University to refurbish the Old Princeton Inn, which was renamed Forbes College for his son.
The elder Forbes was also well-known as a motorcycle enthusiast. However, his son, known as "Steve" does not share this pursuit. Friends say he eschews chauffeured limousines and has a "normal" home life with his wife and five daughters.
Some former Forbes staffers laugh at the idea of Steve running for president. "He has absolutely no idea why people should be poor," says one former Forbes writer. Another Forbes staffer says Steve's main mission is to "make the world safe for inheritors."
When Malcolm died, the New York Times estimated his estate at $400 million to $1 billion. But the Forbes family doesn't include itself in the magazine's annual list of the 400 richest families in America. This is mainly to confuse the Internal Revenue Service. "If they said what they are worth, then the IRS could rely on it," says a former Forbes employee.
But if Forbes does declare his candidacy, he will be required to file his financial records. The filing would likely be revealing reading for the other candidates and the media.