Soros Doubts

Robert Novak
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Posted: Dec 20, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Left-wing billionaire investor George Soros, who appeared to support Howard Dean for president, now is privately expressing doubts about the Democratic Party's front-runner.

In conversations with political friends, Soros confided he has become alarmed by Dean's recent performance and wonders whether the former Vermont governor is capable of defeating George W. Bush. In one such chat, Soros suggested he is interested in retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

Soros has made clear his visceral opposition to President Bush and his passionate desire to find somebody who can defeat him for a second term. The financier has pledged $10 million to America Coming Together (ACT) and $2.5 million to MoveOn.org -- both anti-Bush organizations.

LUGAR TO STATE?

Well-placed sources say Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the leading prospect to succeed Colin Powell as secretary of State in the second term of a Bush administration.

Lugar, a 71-year-old, five-term senator, is close to Powell and shares his less hawkish views of the world. Powell is definitely leaving at the end of the first Bush term. His friend and colleague, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, will leave with him. The choice of Lugar would be enhanced if his former aide, Mitch Daniels, is elected governor of Indiana next year so that a Republican in Indianapolis would select Lugar's successor for the last two years of his term if he leaves the Senate.

A footnote: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, once thought to be in line for the top job at either State or Defense in the second term, is reported to have lost favor at the White House.

KATHERINE, DON'T RUN

Republican sources say that freshman Rep. Katherine Harris may soon be informed that President Bush prefers she not run in a crowded GOP primary for the Senate seat from Florida left open by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Bob Graham.

Harris is running first in Florida Republican polls with former Rep. Bill McCollum second and former Housing Secretary Mel Martinez third. Bush strategists believe Harris is running on name identification created by her role as secretary of state during the 2000 presidential vote recount and that her candidacy could hurt the president's prospects of carrying Florida next year.

A footnote: Martinez is the president's handpicked choice, but he may have waited too long to quit the Cabinet and go home to Florida. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart have endorsed McCollum instead of Martinez, their fellow Cuban-American.

BUSH'S TARGETS

George W. Bush's re-election campaign has targeted two states in the upper Midwest -- Minnesota and Wisconsin -- as the most likely "Blue" states carried by Al Gore in 2000 that could turn "Red" in 2004.

President Bush's analysts are less optimistic about three big industrial states -- Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan -- going Republican. They are viewed by the Bush camp as trending Democratic.

The Bush camp is concerned about not only Florida but also Arizona and Nevada remaining Red in '04 because of the increased Hispanic population in those states. For the same reason, New Mexico does not seem a good prospect for Bush, even though Gore won there in '00 with a virtual tossup.

POSTHUMOUS ENDORSEMENT

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, claims that the posthumously announced endorsement of Howard Dean by her fellow Illinoisan, former Sen. Paul Simon, was limited in scope.

Attending Simon's memorial service in Carbondale, Ill., Braun was stunned to hear former U.S. District Judge Abner Mikva in his eulogy say the late former senator before his death expressed support for Dean. She turned to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and whispered, "That (endorsement) applied only to the Iowa caucuses."

A footnote: Close associates of Daley say he is concerned about Dean as a general election candidate but has no plans to endorse anybody for president.