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Who Will Head the GOP?

The race to chair the Republican National Committe could indicate who has the best shot at becoming the party's nominee in 1996

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LONG before the votes were cast Nov. 3, Republican circles were buzzing about Jack Kemp's presidential prospects. He was being billed as the man with "the vision thing" President Bush not only lacked but so contemptuously dismissed during four years in the White House.

The talk has centered on whether Mr. Kemp will have someone in the party chairman's race when the Republican National Committee (RNC) meets in January.

The meeting takes on special interest because for the first time since 1977 there won't be a Republican in the Oval Office to dictate the RNC's choice.

Though Kemp talk was contagious inside the beltway in the days leading up to the election, he isn't the only presidential hopeful. There's also Vice President Dan Quayle, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, Gov. William Weld of Massachusetts, and perhaps Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole.

For most RNC members, reclaiming the Reagan legacy is apt to be the top priority. Under Ronald Reagan, Republicans were a party that offered hope and opportunity, with no new taxes but lots of new jobs. Mr. Bush let it slip away; they'd like it back.

Kemp's friends say he is the man for the job. They point to his early advocacy of enterprise zones in inner cities, home ownership and tenant management for low-income voters, and school choice for parents.

Kemp is the hero of new conservatives who want to combine supply-side economics with outreach to blue collar and minority voters.

Kemp backers expected Vin Weber, his friend and onetime colleague in the House, to go after the chairmanship. Mr. Weber may go into business instead. But whether it's Weber or someone else, the question for the Kemp people is whether a supply-sider who opposes abortion can unite a Republican Party made fractious by Pat Buchanan's convention speech and the inroads of Pat Robertson's Christian coalition.

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