THE PRESIDENTIAL POSSE

DALLAS STRATEGISTS SADDLE UP FOR GEORGE W.

Not since George W. Bush tient Ann Richards riding off into the sunset in 1994 has the rumbling of distant hooves sounded so good to Dallas Republicans. Bush* one of their own, is galloping out of Austin, hellbent for election as the nation’s 43rd president. Bush’s political home base is Dallas, where his many major supporters include Mary Ceverha and Dan Branch, co-chairs of the Bush gubernatorial effort in Dallas County, as well as Fred McClure, Earl Nye, Rusty Rose, and Alphonso Jackson. Virtually every heal big-bucks Republican is expected to dig deep for the guv. The Dallas-area businessmen who gave Bush more than $100,000 for his gubernatorial campaigns from 1994 to 199H include Louis Beecherl, Dennis Berman. Charles Wyly, Dick Heath, Don Carter. Walter Neuls, Nathan Crain, Robert Wright. John Amend, William Hutchison, and Richard Rainwater.

But as George W. gallops off in hot pursuit of the White House, the key mem bers of his posse will be a half-dozen Dallasites famous for their political smarts-and their connections. None of the six cares to discuss their potential roles in the campaign-to publicly presume a candidate needs your help in ad vance of asking for it is a good way of losing your deputy’s badge before the fun begins. Their likely roles emerge in conversations with longtime political observers.



HOW THE BIG SHOOT-OUT WILL BEGIN:

Soon after Jan. I, Bush will quietly assemble a team to establish an exploratory fund and put together an organizational and financial plan, while he remains above-Hall. Look for George W. to focus on the spring Texas legislative session, pushing issues important to the state, passing substantive legislation. He’ll hone his national issues, most likely defense and foreign affairs-and, of course, the economy.

Meanwhile, Bush’s friends and supporters will raise money. He’ll need more than $20 million, and he’ll be starting from scratch; state funds can’t be carried over to a race for a federal office, and federal election rules restrict “hard money” gifts that can go directly to a campaign to $1 ,000 per. donor. Tubfuls of cash must be available by early fall, when he makes the Big Announcement. If and when the stampede begins, leading the charge will be:

Peter O’Donnell: Sheriff Emeritus

Money and clout define O’Donnell’s power



The master strategist of the Texas Republican Party, O’ Donnell has strong ties to the national Republican hierarchy, which he, in fact, helped create, Not only was O’ Donnell the founder of the modern Texas Republican Party that nabbed the 1952 nomination for Eisenhower out of Robert Taft’s hands, he was also head honcho of the Western and Southern revoit (hat overthrew the Eastern Establishment in 1964 and made the GOP the conservative party, With a fortune from oil and investments estimated in the neighborhood } of $4004600 million, 74-year-old O’ Don nell hands out generous checks to his an-nointed candidates (he gave Bush $128,900 for the last campaign), but even more importantly, other money follows his money. O’ Donnell won’t play an active, hands-on role, but his counsel will be invaluable in locking up the nomination.



James C. Oberwetter: The Quiet Man

Loyalty and a sure grasp of campaign strategy



As vice president of governmental and public affairs for Hunt Oil Company, Jim Oberwetter has been involved behind the scenes for years in a variety of Republican political campaigns. His connection to the Bush family goes back to the early ’70s. Before taking the job at Hunt Oil in 1974, Oberwetter was press secretary to Congressman George Bush of Houston. Intensely loyal to the Bush family, Oberwetter was heavily involved in the senior Bush’s presidential campaigns, serving as chairman of the ’92 Texas effort. A “straight-upguy,”asone Democratic insider describes him, Oberwetter came out looking like a prince of integrity during the 1992 campaign, when an undercover FBI agent offered fake phone tapes from inside Perot campaign headquarters. Oberwetter told the agent to get out of his office and called the police.

Oberwetter, who is the governor’s appointee as Chairman of the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, maintained a low profile in the 1998 governor’s race. How active he will be in any Bush presidential campaign remains to be seen. “I would like to be involved,” Oberwetter says. “We haven’t talked about it-in any capacity.”

Fred Meyer: Chief Deputy

When it’s lime Tor a gut check



Though Meyer lives in Dallas, he’s CEO of Nashville-based Aladdin Industries. As three-term state chairman of the Republican Party of Texas from 1988 to 1994 and senior adviser to Sen.

Phil Gramm during his senate and presidential campaigns, Meyer’s Texas Republican roots are deep, while his national connections are still fresh.

Meyer, who talks to George W. about once a month, says he has no idea what role he would play in a Bush campaign. “I think very few people know what their role is going to be,” Meyer says.

Meyer was one of the primary engineers of the Republican conquest of Dallas County. When he was first elected County Chairman of the Republican Party in 1979, it held only 10 percent of elective offices; when he left that office, about 80 percent of elected officials were Republicans. (Indeed, it’s now virtually impossible for a Democrat to break the Republican lock on courthouse elections.) And he was instrumental in snaring the Republican National Convention for Dallas in 1984.

That’s about the time Meyer met George W. When Bush bought a house about a block away from Meyer’s North Dallas home in the early 1990s, the two became good friends,

Known as an expert strategist on both the financial and political fronts. Meyer would bring to a Bush campaign not only his savvy but also a finely tuned gut instinct that has served him well. He learned the early primary states-the hard way-when he organized field operations for Phil Gramm’s 1996 bid.



Jim Francis: Texas Ranger

DPS chief could go to Washington



He’s known George W. since 1970, when they were both in their early 20s and Francis, fresh out of college, went to work as a deputy scheduler for the senior Bush. He later worked as a special assistant to former Gov. Bill Clements.

Now head of his own investment and pub-lie affairs consulting firm, Francis has served in various capacities in prominent local, state, and federal campaigns, including a stint as state chairman for Gramm’s 1990 Senate race and Kay Bailey Hutchison’s 1993 Senate campaign.

Francis stayed in touch with the Bush family over the years, and when George and Laura moved to Dallas, their families grew even’ closer. Francis played a major role in George W. ’s 1994 campaign for governor and was rewarded in 1996, when the governor appointed him chairman of the Department of Public Safety, the state agency that oversees the Highway Patrol and the Texas Rangers.

In that capacity, Francis could not officially be involved in the last gubernatorial race. Look for that to change. Of all the Bush supporters in Dallas, political insiders say Francis is one of the most likely candidates to be tapped for an official job in a new Bush administration.



Dick Cheney: The Gunslinger

Ho one knows more abort foreign policy



He’s a new guy in Dallas, but a longtime major player in national circles. Dick and his wife, Lynn, moved to Dallas three years ago when he took the post of Chief Executive Officer for Halliburton Company. Major Political givers, the Cheneys will certainly be among Bush’s most high-profile supporters. “He and Lynn love being players, being in the Washington loop.” says one insider.

And no one’s more connected than Dick Cheney, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in the U.S. House for six terms as a Republican representative from Wyoming, and as Secretary of Defense for four years under President George Bush, when he directed Operation Desert Storm. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for that effort.

“Very smart,” says one Bush supporter. “He’s a one-man State Department.” Also very conservative, but ’”not to a fault.” Still very close to former President Bush, Cheney’s likely to be among Bush’s “wise men” on foreign policy.

But it’s open to debate how deeply involved Cheney can be in Bush’s campaign because of his business commitments. Halliburton is in the midst of a major merger with Dresser. “I would expect to be involved if he asked me,” Cheney says. He refused to speculate about a candidate who hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the ring but acknowledges that early fund-raising will be crucial. “If you are already perceived on everybody’s short list, it helps you raise money.”

Nancy Brinker: Annie Oakley

The world’s biggest Rolodex



When George W. Bush first decided to run for governor, he called Nancy Brinker to ask for her support. “At the lime, I was intrigued he would do it,” Brinker says. “I asked, ’Are you really going to stick with it?’ Ilike to support people who are into things for the long pull.” Bush assured her that he was.

“I’m really positive about the governor and Laura,” Brinker says. “I think they bring a tremendous breath of fresh air with their commitment to each other. They’re willing to lead by example. That is extremely, extraordinarily important, considering what we’ve been through in this country recently.”

Brinker points out that she was criticized for supporting Bush (she’s pro-choice; he isn’t), but as governor, he has more than exceeded her expectations.

“I didn’t realize at the time what an incredible coalition builder he would be.” Brinker says. “His leadership style is one of solutions. He doesn’t roll around in a lot of negativity. He’s an action-oriented person.”

And so is Brinker. As founder of the Susan G.Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982. and wife of restaurant entrepreneur Norman Brinker, Nancy would bring to the campaign her own formidable national connections.

Brinker says her entry into politics has occurred gradually over the years. Her husband was an early supporter of former President Bush. “Norman’s company’s always had a PAC,” Nancy says. “He’s always been involved. There are several issues that are important to us”-Hat just breast cancer, she says, but improvement of clinical care, promoting children’s immunizations, and funding medical research.

Brinker*s unique combination of sales training and ardor make her enormously helpful to a national candidate. “She goes into [Republican] boiler rooms and gets on the phone and talks to people about gigantic gifts. $100,000 and up,” says one Bush supporter who’s watched her for years. “She’s absolutely driven on her passions.”

Very active in Jewish organizations and women’s groups. Brinker would bring breadth to any Bush campaign. “Some of the issues she deals with are not part of the conservative stream,” says the observer. And support of Bush wouldn’t hurt Brinker’s own political ambitions. Word is, she wants to run for Congress, possibly for Sam Johnson’s Third District seat when he retires.

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