Backing into The Race

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Putting it on paper

"The time has come," said Senator Paul Laxalt. His close friend the President was just about to make his surprise announcement of a new Interior Secretary, but Laxalt had other important political business to discuss in the Oval Office last Thursday afternoon. "I'd like authorization in writing to go ahead and form the committee for your re-election," said the Nevada Republican. The senior presidential aides in the room—James Baker, Michael Deaver, Edward Rollins—waited for the answer. They all knew that although the President seemed ready to run for another term, he did not want to make it formal at this time. Reluctantly, Reagan agreed with Laxalt's recommendation and gave him the go-ahead.

Thus as of this week, Ronald Reagan is scheduled officially and legally to become a candidate for reelection. Not that he has dropped his veil of coyness completely. Reagan has still not told aides explicitly that he plans to run again. Moreover, his statement of candidacy sent to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) includes a disclaimer of sorts. Reagan intends to note that he reserves the right to make a formal announcement later.

That formal announcement may not come until early December, or possibly even January. Reagan, always interested in show as well as substance, wants to keep the matter technically open until he feels the moment is right to go on prime-time television with a speech kicking off his campaign. With his flair for the dramatic, Reagan would like to keep some element of suspense until then. "It is perfectly appropriate that he have a little wiggle room," says Laxalt. But Laxalt, who will be the campaign chairman, is not expecting a change of heart. "In football terms," he says, "this candidacy is on the six-inch line." Says a senior aide: "The announcement will be just a media event."

The reason Reagan agreed to become a formal candidate now was so that his committee could begin to raise money for the campaign. Without an official blessing from Reagan, banks were reluctant to put up the nearly $1 million in loans the committee needs as seed money. In addition, the money collected by Jan. 1 will be immediately eligible for up to $10.5 million in matching funds from the federal Treasury. His advisers think they can raise as much as $16 million using a mailing list of 2 million loyal donors. They want this task to be completed by January, when the party's House and Senate candidates begin their own drives for contributions, so that they do not compete for money at the same time.

The FEC requires that a potential candidate either authorize or disavow a campaign committee within 15 days. That period can be extended to as long as 30 days if the candidate delays responding. Reagan at first wanted to take advantage of this time and allow Laxalt's committee to begin work without official sanction. "I wasn't comfortable with that," said Laxalt. "I felt if we were going to move ahead, let's do it in a straightforward fashion and not be cute about it." He told the President on Thursday he wanted explicit authorization to get under way.

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