There is quite a long list of political figures who have disclosed their intentions to run for president at a Monitor breakfast - starting with Robert Kennedy and including Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.
Now Jack Kemp has come as close as any potential candidate could come this early in the game: He says that, instead of discouraging him, the Dole-Kemp loss in the last election has only "whetted my appetite" for running for the top spot in the year 2000.
Before he talked to us, the superconfident Mr. Kemp fairly burst into the Carlton Hotel's Chandelier Room, where some 30 journalists were waiting for him, and with hand-shaking exuberance quickly caused us to suspect that here was a politician who was still running for something. Just before the GOP national convention, a subdued Kemp met with this same group. He indicated then that his political life was over - that he had no plan even to go to the convention. He was a "has-been," he said. A few days later lightning struck in San Diego and Kemp was on the ticket. And then came the defeat that could well have persuaded Kemp that this was the end of the line.
But no. Kemp told us he is taking the losing campaign as a learning experience that, he says, has prepared him for a reach for the big prize. And with a quip here and some joshing there and a lot of laughter throughout the breakfast session, Kemp proceeded to persuade us how loose he is, how confident he is, and how ready he is to do battle again.
I think I can hear some readers observing: "But why get excited about Jack Kemp - he isn't going anywhere. He's had his day. It's over." Well, maybe.
When hastily looking for a precedent, one lights on the case of Bob Dole, who was on the losing Ford-Dole ticket. Mr. Dole, obviously, got his shot at the presidency. Yet he wasn't successful in that effort either.
So all I can say is that the large turnout of reporters for Kemp at the breakfast was a good indicator that the press is taking him and his presidential intentions very seriously. And why? Because they can see that Kemp, despite a no-more-than-adequate performance as Dole's running mate, has the personal makeup and the political philosophy that could still make him a most effective candidate.
KEMP said at the breakfast, as he has before, that he is an exponent of the "Lincoln" wing of the Republican Party. By this he says his campaign would encompass an all-out effort to win blacks and ethnics to the GOP. He favors affirmative action - not just for African Americans but for all poor people.
He says he wants his party once again - as it was in the days of Lincoln - to become the party of compassion. He adds that he doesn't want to be the candidate if he can't pick up a lot of black votes.
At the same time - wonder of wonders - Kemp remains a favorite among Republican (and many Democratic) conservatives. A recent poll confirms this.
And as a person - particularly up close when he is chatting with a single person or a small group - Kemp is a very attractive fellow. He relates easily with others, very quickly becomes one of the guys. Indeed, his sunny disposition is catching. You come away from being with Kemp - when he is his usual upbeat self - feeling better about yourself. Yes, much of that warm personality did not show forth in the last campaign, where Kemp was obscured by his place on the ticket and restrained by his oath of loyalty to Dole - which he adhered to punctiliously.
So it is, indeed, worth more than a casual observation to note that Jack Kemp is back in town and is about ready to begin the biggest quest of his political life.