While President Bush was in Salt Lake City opening the winter Olympics, the lead organizer of the event, Mitt Romney, who ran a failed Senate bid in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy, spoke to the president about his continued hope to serve in Washington. Bush is said to have expressed a desire to help him make that move.
Romney would especially like to mount a challenge for a Senate seat in Utah, something the Republican National Committee has indicated it would support.
The problem: both Utah senators are Republicans and neither has shown an interest in retiring or moving on. Robert Bennett is up for re-election in 2004. Orrin Hatch is up in 2006. "We'd like Bennett to take a powder," says an RNC policy staffer. "He's almost 70 and there is probably something in the administration for him if he left. I know the White House has spoken to [Utah Gov.] Mike Leavitt about the situation. Leavitt has indicated he'd be open to nominating Romney should an opening occur."
Hatch has long aspired to serve on the Supreme Court, but that likelihood has diminished over the years. Even if Republicans won back the Senate, it's doubtful Hatch would be Bush's first choice. "Bennett is the more likely of the two to ease out," says a Senate staffer on the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We wouldn't stand in the way of that forced retirement."
The White House would like Romney to get one of those seats. He's younger, telegenic, and considered a rising star in Republican circles for his fund-raising ability.
Getting Bennett to retire might also be predicated on getting a new Senate GOP leader. Current leader Trent Lott has thus far been loath to pressure colleagues into early retirement, even it might help the party's fortunes.
THE ALBANY SYNDROME
Remember how we wrote some weeks ago about New York Gov. George Pataki's not wanting to be governor anymore? About his not wanting to run for re-election, but being forced to because former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani wouldn't run in his place? About how Pataki badly wanted a job in the Bush administration?
Well, he's really setting his sights high now: "He expects that Vice President Cheney won't be running again in 2004 and he's ready to run in his place," says a Pataki political adviser.
Some of Pataki's confidantes were stunned by the admission, which came after a reporter inquired about whether Pataki would commit to serve a full four-year term again. "He said, if the right offer came along -- and that could only be vice president -- he'd have to take it," says the consultant. "We were all surprised by the certainty in his voice. He really thinks this is coming down the pike."
BILL HAS ISSUES
Feeling burned by constant reminders that he has little to show for his eight years of foreign policy efforts (not to mention an economy that didn't tank until the end of his administration), former President Bill Clinton is pushing his New York-based staff to begin putting together "Issue Papers." The reports, which eventually may be published either out of his presidential offices in Harlem or out of his library, are intended, says a former presidential staffer, to reflect reality as Clinton saw it and sees it. "He isn't going to have a book out for some time, and he feels the media and especially Republicans have erased or painted over all of the hard work we did on behalf of the country," says the former aide. "It may not look like we did much now, but he really believes he made a huge difference in the world, for America and our friends everywhere."
Clinton apparently hopes the papers, which initially will be distributed to friends, former aides, and senior Democratic officials and pols, will also serve as not-so-gentle nudges to Democrats to defend Clinton and the record he and his party compiled between 1993 and 2001.