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Baker Would Add Political Savvy To Bush Camp

Secretary of state's move also would signal president is ready to act on domestic agenda

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FOUR years ago this summer, between the conventions, George Bush was trailing by 17 percentage points in the polls and struggling to overcome his image as a "wimp."

Enter James Baker III, who brought either the talent to turn the race around or the impeccable timing to take over as prospects were improving. Or both.

On Aug. 5, 1988, Mr. Baker left his Cabinet position as treasury secretary to take over the Bush campaign. From then on, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis's support was methodically shorn away.

One of Bush's oldest and closest friends, Baker is once again about to leave behind a Cabinet post - this time, as secretary of state - to run a beleaguered Bush campaign, White House and campaign sources are quoted as saying. (Impact on State Department, Page 3.)

Baker would bring many assets to the Bush campaign. One of the most valuable is the mystique he carries as a past master of the patient arts of wielding power effectively.

For all the keen political instincts he will bring to the Bush team, he is also a symbol - a signal to the public that Bush is ready to act on the domestic front.

In the most widespread version of the story, and the one preferred by many Republican strategists, Baker would not assume a formal campaign role. Instead he would probably become an economic policy czar in the White House, with authority to coordinate both campaign and White House affairs.

If Baker takes on the task of carrying out a strong economic policy, says Rep. Vin Weber (R) of Minnesota, a leading House conservative, then people will assume it will get done.

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