"Party leaders don't want to spend a year fighting out the nomination," says Tumulty. They fear that a prolonged battle could be self-defeating in the face of what appears to be Democratic unity. "They see Al Gore as having a big advantage in not having to wage a big fight either for the nomination or the soul of his party." Tumulty believes there are three Republicans to watch in the march toward a party consensus: Bush, Elizabeth Dole and Senator John McCain -- "because each is perceived to have star power." Bush appears to have taken an early lead. More than half of the nation's 31 GOP governors have indicated they would support the Texas governor. "This kind of backing this early in a presidential race is unheard of," says Tumulty, and is indicative of the pressure Republicans are feeling to come together.
The Republican party is being pulled by two opposing forces. With the field of presidential candidates becoming more crowded -- as it did again this week -- the search is on for the one candidate who can bring the party together. On Tuesday, conservative CNN commentator Pat Buchanan announced his third run for the Oval Office, and Texas governor George Bush announced the formation of an exploratory committee. The latest entries bring to 11 the number of declared and undeclared major GOP aspirants. Which is why GOP bigwigs are working hard to narrow down the list as quickly as possible, says TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty.