Elizabeth Dole Enters the Presidential Sweepstakes

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American politics played one of its usual tricks this week. A veteran Republican politician, Lamar Alexander, announced his candidacy for the presidency on Tuesday and nobody noticed. A never-elected former GOP Cabinet official, Elizabeth Dole, announced the formation of an exploratory committee on Wednesday and became the subject of instant headlines. "This is one of those remarkable things," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Carney. "Even with less of a record than George W. Bush, Dole is doing well in the polls."

Elizabeth Dole, of course, is the beneficiary of a famous name and of America's passion with gender politics. "The GOP would like nothing better than to be the first party to put a woman in the presidency -- or vice presidency," says Carney. But therein lies a problem for the party. Though Dole really wants to be president, she is currently in solid second place behind Bush and could eventually be amenable to the second spot on the ticket. Both Bush and Dole are moderates, though. "If it begins to look as if establishment candidates have a solid lock on the party," says Carney,"the social conservatives could start to rebel" They might choose to unite around one of the several conservatives now running -- perhaps Pat Buchanan or Gary Bauer -- and create the kind of intra-party breach that gave the first George Bush such a headache when he ran for the Oval Office.