MASSACHUSETTS Gov. William Weld (R) is emerging as a strong supporter of President Bush and is being considered for a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Houston next month.
The moderate Republican is building a national reputation as an intelligent and successful state leader. In the Bay State, he is credited with bringing the state out of a fiscal crisis after former Gov. Michael Dukakis's "Massachusetts Miracle" went bust. He has also shown a strong commitment to environmental issues.
After Mr. Dukakis's loss to Mr. Bush in the 1988 presidential election, Weld - Dukakis's successor - is considered by party officials to be well-suited to take on Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
"He seems to be an eager beaver to be seen as one of the president's most loyal and consistent supporters," says Marvin Kalb, director of the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University. "Once the effort is clearly recognized by the Bush/Quayle re-election committee, no doubt they will have other missions in mind."
Weld has campaigned with both Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle as well as on his own. Last month, he made a trip to Little Rock, Ark., and held a news conference at which he criticized Gov. Bill Clinton. In his remarks, Weld accused the Democratic presidential candidate of favoring business interests over environmental concerns. He also attacked Clinton's record on raising taxes.
Weld lashed out at Clinton on yet another occasion, when the Bay State governor was speaking in Pittsburgh in June.
State Democratic leaders say Weld, who has served only 18 months in office, has no real case against Clinton who has served as Arkansas' governor for the past 12 years.
"I think the initial desire by the Bush/Quayle campaign was to put Bill Weld out there as sort of a `gubernatorial pit bull' in an attempt to take a sitting Republican governor - who had come into office fairly recently - to discredit Bill Clinton as governor of Arkansas," says Steve Grossman, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic party.
Despite the Weld's campaigning efforts, it is unclear if he will have a major or minor speaking role in Houston. Unlike Republican activists in the national party hierarchy, Weld is considered more liberal on certain issues; he is pro-choice and favors gay rights.
"Bush has made peace with the conservatives and has had to support pro-life groups and is not very supportive of [gay rights] groups," says Joseph Slavet, senior fellow at the McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. "I think that Weld will kind of find himself a minority. [But] he says he is going to fight to get his views incorporated in the platform."
In Massachusetts, Weld has placed gays in senior administration positions and even created a state commission on suicide prevention among gay and lesbian teenagers.
A strong supporter of abortion rights, the Bay State governor has proposed state legislation that includes even further abortion rights protection than the 1973 Roe v. Wade supreme court decision. But Weld is also a fiscal conservative, and he favors strong law enforcement including the death penalty.
According to Mr. Slavet, Weld comes from a traditional mold of liberal Republican politicians, now considered a fading breed. Included in that group from Eastern states are Republican senators like Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, says Slavet.
"The liberal Republican senators came from the Northeast and they came from the Northwest and some of them came from the northeast tier of the Midwest, and I say they are a dwindling band because of the changing of the GOP on the national level," Slavet says.
But some Republican party officials see Weld's moderate views as a plus.
If he is given a major speaking slot at the convention, the Bay State governor will stand in contrast to Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania (D) who was denied time to speak at the national Democratic convention because he is anti-abortion. Thus, Weld will be seen leading a "big tent" party philosophy that would include centrist views within the national party platform, particularly abortion rights.
"Given his strong credentials on the choice question, it's certainly helpful for the party to show that even those who differ with the president on the choice question support the president for re-election," says Alan Safran, spokesman for the Massachusetts state Republican party.
But if Bush wins this year's election with strong conservative support, Weld and fellow liberal Republicans will be left in the cold.
If Bush loses the election because of the GOP's failure to include moderates, Weld has a better chance of getting elected to higher public office. Some political observers speculate that he is considering a run for the presidency in 1996.
"If he persuades most of the Republican party that a moderate Republican from a state such as Massachusetts ought to represent the national party - which is not necessarily an easy leap of logic for him - then I think he would be a very good candidate. And I would be amazed if the governor is not thinking along those lines," says Mr. Kalb.