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Governor Schedules East Coast Fund-Raisers To Retire 1994 Debt

March 9, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ California Gov. Pete Wilson will hold three East Coast fund-raisers later this month to help retire his 1994 gubernatorial campaign debt and gauge support for a possible 1996 presidential run.

The events _ in Boston, New York and Washington _ are ostensibly designed to help Wilson erase the $1.5 million debt he had at the end of last year’s re-election campaign. After several recent West Coast events, the debt is now below $1 million, Wilson adviser George Gorton said Thursday.

In recent weeks, Wilson has been contacting fellow governors, GOP strategists and fund-raisers to discuss a possible run for the 1996 Republican nomination and he has been asking them to hold off joining other campaigns.

While contacting fund-raisers to help him with the 1994 debt, he has sounded them out about a 1996 run and has been encouraged by the response, a Wilson finance aide said. His advisers say he is inclined to run, and plans a final decision by the end of March.

Wilson believes his recent focus on immigration, welfare reform, affirmative action and the unfunded mandates Washington passes along to states would make him a strong candidate. He also would be the only sitting governor in a field that includes several senators and one former governor, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

The sole obstacle, Wilson advisers say, is deciding whether he can run a national campaign and tend to his duties as governor. That task is complicated by the fact that California’s lieutenant governor is a Democrat who would serve as acting governor when Wilson is out of state and would assume the governorship if Wilson left office.

Wilson aides are drafting a ballot initiative to change the state constitution and require a special election if the governor leaves midway through a term. Wilson also has attorneys studying the presidential campaign requirements, including ballot access and delegate selection rules.

Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who is helping with the Boston fund-raiser, said he spoke to Wilson this week and is convinced he will run.

``I don’t think they have flipped the switch yet, but everyone has their assignment and they are doing the blocking and tackling,″ Weld said. ``The financial apparatus is certainly in place. And I have a sense that he will be able to deal with the lieutenant governor problem.″

Weld described himself as ``still neutral″ in the 1996 chase but said, ``It would be good for the party if Pete got in. He would be a tough campaigner, so whoever the nominee is, whether Pete gets it or not, you can be sure that nominee would have been tested in a real competitive primary process.″

New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, like Weld and Wilson a moderate who supports abortion rights, has also said recently she would welcome a Wilson candidacy.

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