Secret Search for a Third-Party Candidate

THEY keep a low profile. They speak only by telephone. Their plans are classified. But some say they may be plotting to seize the White House. Call them ''The Secret Seven.''

In a Hollywood-style twist on the now-familiar ''third party'' theme, Time magazine reports that seven prominent politicians, all with centrist political views, have been recently drafting position papers that could be precursors of a presidential bid.

The group includes five Democrats: New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, ex-Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, ex-Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, ex-Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, ex-Minnesota Rep. Tim Penny. Rounding out the seven are two independents: ex-Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker and Maine Gov. Angus King. While it's not clear which, if any, of them would run, the announcement of the group's existence has the markings of a trial balloon.

''There is a center in this country ... that is basically socially inclusive, fiscally conservative, pro-environment,'' Senator Tsongas says. ''Those people feel rather disenfranchised at this point.''

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