Powell for State? But Which Party?

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That McGuffin of political conversation, Colin Powell, surfaced again Sunday at the annual meeting of the National Governors' Association, where he told reporters he wouldn't mind if the next administration had a Cabinet gig for him.

Of course, everyone assumes this would be as secretary of state for George W. Bush. But Powell's not really saying. In the manner that movie stars use when speaking of people with whom they are "just really good friends," he said he's had "lots of conversations," with Bush and that "those conversations are private." (After all, General Powell's deepest relationship was with George W.'s father.) And while the Bushies aren't telling either, they're floating the idea that W. will name at least some Cabinet members before November. Whether that will make friends and influence voters — does anybody really care who the secretary of transportation is? — remains to be seens.

But why should Powell limit his chances to be Madeleine Albright's successor to one in two? The general could easily cover his bets with a quick phone call to Gore headquarters. After all, Powell's a Republican of the very moderate kind (his chief post-military position is that he's been gung-ho about volunteerism), and Gore's from an administration that's made its living square in the political center. And there's presidential precedent: Bill Clinton's current secretary of defense, Bill Cohen, is a moderate Republican. Perhaps Gore should pre-emptively announce that he'd name Powell as State majordomo, and thereby undercut any advantage that Bush is seeking.

W. would dearly love to have Powell as the number two on his ticket, but the general has already declined the invitation. If Powell perchance said yes, that would put the Democrats in a hole — and the only way Gore could top that would be to name Clinton as his number two. (Clinton would get a nice house, a plane, and a lot of foreign travel.)

The Bush campaign's talk of glamorous Cabinet appointments has got to be a bit annoying for Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, who's trying to use the governors' meeting, held in his home state, to press his case that he's the ideal Bush running mate — even though many Republicans don't think he's got his mind right on abortion. If only he had better Gulf War credentials.