The Sun Shines on Forbes

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WASHINGTON: Perhaps the best indicator that Steve Forbes has attained the rank of "serious" presidential contender is this: the press is now investigating his campaign as seriously as those of his GOP opponents. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Federal Election Commission is looking into whether the Forbes campaign received improper advances from Forbes Inc., the candidate's family firm. At the same time, questions surfaced about two of the candidate's top media advisers, Carter Wrenn and Tom Ellis, whose nonprofit group lost its tax-exempt status after failing to deliver on promises made to donors. Even as the scrutiny tightens, Forbes himself appears to be surging ahead. After a second poll in as many days showed Forbes ahead of Bob Dole in New Hampshire, TIME National Political correspondent Michael Duffy says it's conceivable that Forbes could actually make a credible run for the GOP nomination. "There's a breathtaking moment in every primary campaign, Democrat or Republican," Duffy says, "where the party wakes up and realizes that it's possible that someone they never thought of in that way could be the nominee." That moment came Wednesday, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a Washington Press Club dinner not to count Forbes out as a candidate: "This city, being a remarkably insular place, is convinced that Steve Forbes can't win because he doesn't have the experience, he doesn't have the practical background, he's not uniquely qualified to be an insider in the club." Conspicuous in its absence: Any Gingrich mention of GOP frontrunner Bob Dole.