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Could it Be Sen. Thompson in 2000?

August 12, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Fred Thompson announced he has hired a longtime political operative as his new chief of staff Wednesday, generating more speculation about the Tennessee Republican’s presidential aspirations.

Powell A. Moore held White House jobs under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, and worked on their presidential campaign staffs. He also volunteered for the presidential campaigns of George Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

``I bet I can guess what your question is,″ said deputy press secretary Esther Campi, answering her telephone with a chuckle. Is this part of a grand plan for Thompson to run for president in 2000?

``Mr. Moore’s job is to manage Senator Thompson’s offices, both in Washington and Tennessee,″ she replied, reading from a prepared statement. ``Over some 30 years, he has had considerable experience in a number of areas which will be helpful.″

Added Campi: ``I wouldn’t read anything more into that.″

Thompson, who headed a Senate investigation into President Clinton’s campaign fund-raising practices, is on the long list of Republican politicians contemplating presidential bids.

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The Republican Party’s most conservative activists will get a chance to rate the fledgling GOP presidential field next month, when the Christian Coalition conducts a straw poll at its annual ``Road to Victory″ conference.

The coalition announced Wednesday that the Sept. 18-19 straw poll will feature names of ``many prominent public figures″ _ Republicans, Democrats and independents _ who are considered to be presidential hopefuls.

Political operatives have always debated the benefits of such non-binding polls. Running mini-campaigns to place well in the surveys can cost plenty of time and money, but the stature of hopefuls can rise or fall based on their performances.

For a presidential prospect such as Steve Forbes, who has loads of money and a need to make inroads in social conservative circles, the straw ballot could give him a boost. It can be a nuisance for a candidate like Sen. John Ashcroft, who doesn’t have Forbes’ resources and is already considered a favorite of social conservative leaders.

An Ashcroft adviser said Wednesday that the Republican from Missouri probably won’t campaign hard for straw ballot votes.

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Former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander on Monday will launch a national advertising blitz pushing for a ``family friendly″ tax code that he said would distance him from other potential Republican presidential candidates.

Alexander, a failed 1996 presidential candidate, said during an interview in Des Moines, Iowa, that he’ll spend $200,000 in the first week running the ads on CNN, the Fox Network and network affiliates seen in 14 states. The television commercials call for tripling the child deduction parents are allowed to take, as well as elimination of the penalty some married couples must pay.

Ashcroft has already announced a TV ad campaign in Iowa that will highlight his tax cut plans.

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Colorado primaries on Tuesday resolved internal battles among Democrats and Republicans, setting the state for critical elections in November.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell staved off a challenge from his right, defeating anti-abortion, anti-gun control conservative Bill Eggert, who said the senator was too moderate for the GOP nomination. Campbell, who won with 70 percent of the vote, will face ex-newspaper columnist Dottie Lamm, wife of former Gov. Richard Lamm and a moderate who defeated a traditional Democrat with big labor backing, Gil Romero.

Campbell is among the handful of vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in the fall.

In the Colorado governor’s race, Republicans fielded their most conservative candidate; abortion foe Bill Owens defeated a more moderate Tom Norton for the GOP nomination. Democrats, who can’t afford to lose the seat now occupied by outgoing Gov. Roy Romer, believe Owens is vulnerable because of misstatements about his draft record. Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler won the Democratic nomination.

One of the nation’s most competitive House races also took shape: Bob Greenlee won the Republican nomination and Mark Udall won the Democratic nod to compete for the seat being vacated by Rep. David Skaggs. Democrats have held the seat since 1974, but could lose it in November.

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Associated Press reporter Mike Glover contributed to this story from Iowa.

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