WASHINGTON — LIKE it not, with Sen. Bob Dole the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, the 1996 veepstakes are on with a vengeance. And anyone with name recognition, from the nation's governors to Colin Powell, is in the running, if not by choice.
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, in Washington last week for the Republican Governors Association news conference, saw the veep question coming, shaking his head and smiling as a reporter was in mid-query.
"I've been asked that about every day that I'm in front of any press," said Mr. Thompson. But like others, he demurred and praised another. "I think Colin Powell's going to be the vice presidential nominee," he said of the retired general and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
"I think," he added, "there will be a governor chosen to be vice president if in fact Colin Powell is not chosen. But I think Bob Dole's going to ask Colin Powell and I think Colin Powell's going to accept."
History shows that vice presidential candidates rarely run for the job - at least overtly - preferring to be drafted instead.
Take Gov. John Engler of Michigan, who chairs the GOP Governors Association, which also announced its endorsement of Dole.
When pressed, Mr. Engler had a few words on who might make a good running mate for Dole.
"It's nice to have the state of Michigan being talked about..." he began. "But it's also the case that when you talk to Governor Thompson in Wisconsin and you look at the record of that state, you look at what Bill Weld's done in Massachusetts, what Christie Whitman has done in New Jersey. On and on the list goes - Mike Leavitt in Utah."
For his part, former General Powell has insisted he's not interested in the job.
"I'm speaking to you for myself. My position is that I will not run for any elective office," Powell told the Chicago Sun-Times for its Sunday edition.
But many Republicans think the general protesteth too much. Senator Dole seemed optimistic after his Super Tuesday sweep of the South. Powell, he said, "has been a soldier all his life and he's responded whenever his country needed him, and I believe if anyone went to General Powell ... and laid out a case ... that he would suit up again."
Reacting to the Sun-Times story, Dole said: "Everybody's talking to the general but me.... We're not even at that stage yet.... He's probably getting tired of all the speculation."