WASHINGTON — The jockeying for the 2000 presidential race is heating up - but in some unexpected ways.
Sen. John Ashcroft (R) of Missouri, a conservative former governor who spent last year laying groundwork for a presidential bid may be getting cold feet. And Elizabeth Dole, president of the American Red Cross, may be getting ready to run for the Republican nomination. Texas Gov. George W. Bush leads polls for the GOP nomination, but has made no formal move toward launching a campaign.
On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore remains the overwhelming favorite for his party's nomination. Two challengers have already emerged - former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, both of whom have formed exploratory campaign committees. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska, another potential candidate, announced last month he will not run.
Still, the 2000 presidential race remains wide open. As long as President Clinton remains in office, this will be the first presidential election since 1988 with no incumbent on either party's ticket.
At the same time, Mrs. Dole, wife of 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, plans to resign as president of the American Red Cross in what supporters hope will set the stage for her own run for the White House in 2000.
The announcement from Mr. Ashcroft that he will not run for president, scheduled for today, comes as a surprise. But several backers, particularly Missouri financial supporters, are said to be urging Ashcroft to concentrate on retaining his seat in 2000. Popular Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) has decided to challenge Ashcroft.
RUNNING for the presidency and reelection to the Senate would be tricky for Ashcroft: He has been courting social conservative leaders in his White House bid, which could put him at odds with mainstream voters back home.
Another formidable early contender could be Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who has just formed an exploratory committee.
Dole's planned departure from the American Red Cross is "a not-unexpected prelude to the next phase of her life," which could include her running for president, one adviser said.
Supporters of Dole have said she likely would not decide whether to seek the presidency until later this year. She is considered a strong prospect for a vice presidential nomination whether or not she runs for president. Earl Cox, national campaign manager of Draft Elizabeth Dole 2000, declined to say whether he knew about her leaving the Red Cross.
- From staff and wire reports