Candidates In the Wings

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RUDY GIULIANI 9/11 boosted the then New York City mayor onto the national stage. Hes fiscally tight but may be too socially liberal for the G.O.P. base

Rule No. 1 for any Republican who wants to succeed George W. Bush in 2008 is now clear: stay on the President's good side. It's his party, and from fund raising to endorsements, a sitting President can do a lot to determine who the next G.O.P. nominee will be. So if Senator John McCain decides to run for President in 2008, it won't hurt that he and Bush have cooled the infamous ire that developed between them during the pungent 2000 primary season. Campaigning together frequently this fall, the former rivals became, if not bosom buddies, closer than either ever expected, according to friends of both. Bush was impressed that McCain never wavered in his support for the war in Iraq, even as the security situation there deteriorated. And McCain was impressed with Bush's empathy when they visited relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Now that Bush has been re-elected, it won't be long before attention turns to the 2008 fight for the Republican nomination. Since Vice President Dick Cheney has said he's not interested in following the tradition of V.P.s running to succeed the boss, there's no clear heir to the G.O.P. nomination. Potential contenders hail from different ideological camps and traditions. They include:

MCCAINIACS Because McCain has run before, he has a large national base from which to build a campaign. After Bush and Cheney, the Arizona Senator is the party's best-known face and has a proven appeal to Democrats and independents. "John McCain is positioned to be the front runner. Period," says Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential bid.

But several factors could hold McCain back. He'll be 72 in 2008, three years older than Ronald Reagan was when he became the oldest elected President. The policy positions that make McCain popular with independents would draw fire from rivals within the G.O.P. He has opposed some of President Bush's tax cuts, making him an apostate to the party's tax-cutting faithful. "We don't like McCain at all," says Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth. McCain in 2000 antagonized social conservatives when he likened religious broadcasters Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. And he opposes a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage—a litmus test for many social conservatives. Friends of McCain say he's interested in running in 2008, but others close to him say he could bow out. "He lives in the moment," says a friend.

Like McCain, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, another 2008 prospect, has a maverick streak, illustrated by his willingness to chide the Bush Administration for being "cavalier" in dealing with allies. But Hagel could be more acceptable to conservatives than McCain. He backed all of Bush's tax cuts and helped lead the Senate opposition to the Kyoto global-warming treaty.

NEW YORKERS Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani campaigned aggressively for President Bush and proved a huge crowd pleaser. His credentials as America's mayor, earned in the aftermath of 9/11, are a plus. As a tax cutter, he's in synch with his party's mainstream on economic issues, and he's a Bush-style hawk on defense, even if he may not be ready for prime time on that front. (He blamed U.S. troops last week for the missing explosives at Iraq's al-Qaqaa facility.) But on social issues, he's on the far left within the G.O.P. as a pro-choice politician who favored giving gay partners of city employees the rights of spouses, such as medical-insurance benefits. For those reasons, says a Republican campaign strategist, "I think he's got a better shot at Veep."

Allies of New York's George Pataki say he's eyeing the 2008 race. Like Giuliani, he's pro abortion rights, and that could make getting the nomination difficult. But as Governor of his state, he would be able to raise serious money. Both Giuliani and Pataki will have to decide whether to challenge Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton when her seat comes up in 2006. If Giuliani or Pataki manages to knock off the Democratic icon, he would be considered a giant slayer within the party. On the other hand, losing to her would probably doom either man's shot at the 2008 presidential nomination.

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