The Powell Factor

THE race for the Republican (GOP) nomination for president in the 1996 election appears to be going nowhere - yet.

Polls show the candidates with nearly the same public-opinion ratings they have had all year. In New Hampshire, which has the first presidential primary next February, Sen. Bob Dole is still the favorite by a wide margin. A new survey of New Hampshire Republicans says 39 percent support Mr. Dole, while most other candidates get single digits. The only surprise in the poll was the 10 percent rating garnered by millionaire publisher Steve Forbes, who has blitzed the state with media ads.

But if Gen. Colin Powell enters the GOP race, the picture changes dramatically. In that case, 33 percent of those surveyed would back Mr. Powell, with 18 percent behind Dole and undecideds soaring. And a New York Times-CBS News poll shows Powell with a slightly higher favorability rating among likely Republican voters nationwide - 43 percent - than Dole's 39 percent.

Powell's popularity has grown, not declined, since he's set out generally moderate social and conservative fiscal views. That's a good reason why he should be in the race.

We've pointed to parallels between Powell and President Dwight Eisenhower. And the GOP has a history of running war heroes that goes back to their first election in 1856.

But there's another parallel: Many conservatives cannot brook the general. Pat Buchanan warns of a revolt if Powell is the GOP nominee. Should the Republican vote split as it did in 1912, when former President Theodore Roosevelt took on President William Taft, or as it did in 1992, when independent Ross Perot ran, the result will be the same: The Democrat nominee will win.

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