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Ashcroft Considers 2000 Campaigns

December 4, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican Sen. John Ashcroft said Friday he is laying the groundwork for simultaneous White House and Senate campaigns in 2000.

Aides to the conservative freshman senator said they believe he will seek the GOP presidential nomination, although his decision is not yet final. He is telling supporters to have a presidential operation ready to go when he announces his intentions Jan. 5 in his hometown of Springfield.

``I’ve said to supporters that if I make the decision to seek the presidency, I am going to need them to help me,″ Ashcroft said in a telephone interview from Missouri. ``I’m going to be conferring with my family and spending some time in serious consideration and prayer before I make an announcement.″

In recent weeks, Ashcroft has spent less time speaking on such issues as abortion and President Clinton’s conduct _ topics that attract social conservatives _ and has instead emphasized issues meant to attract moderates. Those include education, juvenile crime and drug abuse, tax cuts, welfare reform and Social Security.

Potential rivals have criticized him for choosing more centrist themes, but allies argue the only thing changing is his emphasis, not his beliefs.

Critics ``make a mistake by believing that people of faith don’t care about improving education, getting drugs out of our schools and getting violent juveniles out of our classrooms _ as well as abortion,″ chief of staff David Ayres said.

Ashcroft’s critics include Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, who is pursuing Ashcroft’s seat and who will try to paint the senator as an extremist.

A new Missouri law allows Ashcroft to delay filing for re-election until he wins or loses the presidential nomination. Texas has the same type law _ dubbed the LBJ law for Lyndon B. Johnson _ and Sen. Phil Gramm took advantage of it in his short-lived run for the GOP nomination in 1996.

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