A PUBLIC desire for change drove the last presidential election and the congressional elections of 1994. This voter dissatisfaction with the status quo is still at work. It's evident in the widespread unhappiness with the president and with those Republicans who seek to replace him.
There's definitely a yearning out there among the voters for ''someone else'' - someone who, of course, is deemed presidential material.
That's why Colin Powell is getting so much attention. It's also why Bill Bradley and his possible challenge of Bill Clinton stirred up so much interest. Ross Perot benefited from this same public dissatisfaction in 1992. And the polls show he would still pick up around 20 percent of the vote if he again became a third-party candidate.
Right now it appears that it will be Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole in next year's election.
Today if there were an election and if a ''neither of the above'' square was available on the ballot, I think that category might well get the most votes.
New polls show Clinton has moved up from around 43 percent to 49 percent in public approval. He has bobbed back and forth in that range since his election in 1992 with 43 percent of the vote. But the number of people who strongly oppose Clinton remains very high - about 40 percent. It's saying the obvious, but I'll say it: He's not a popular president.
None of the current leaders among the GOP challengers - Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, or Pat Buchanan - is widely popular among Republican voters. Dole, to many Republicans, seems a retread, someone who has shown in the past he has trouble winning. Gramm, to many Republicans, is perceived as a candidate whose tough ideological talk won't carry him too far. And Buchanan? Most moderate Republicans are put off by his confrontational approach.
Yes, right now I think this less-than-popular president would defeat any of the present leading GOP challengers simply because the latter would be less popular.
That's why that opportunity is yawning for Colin Powell. But it's also there for a Republican who, people tend to forget, has said he might get into the fray.
That's Newt Gingrich. A few days after becoming Speaker he told reporters at a Monitor breakfast that he might run against Clinton. He said he certainly wasn't ruling it out. Then a couple of months ago and to the same group of reporters he repeated this expression of interest in becoming a candidate. And now, in recent days and in the same setting, his answer to a question about a possible candidacy was put in one word: ''Yes.'' He will decide in December, he said.
How would Gingrich do? He, himself, told us that he could foresee some problems. ''I know I'm controversial,'' he said. It's obvious that Gingrich doesn't possess Powell's warm appeal.
But the Speaker (not the president) has been the prime mover in American government since he took over as leader of the House. This energetic, imaginative fellow has done more than anyone else to move the government in a new, less federal-oriented direction.
People everywhere know this - whether they like what he is doing or not. Gingrich is everywhere all the time. Try to find a news program on TV where you won't see his face.
Gingrich would thus start out as someone who is well known. He'd be a whirlwind as a candidate. And he'd be formidable in debate. Indeed, he could be the ''new face'' that many voters would be looking for.
A savvy reporter who is out with the candidates almost all the time told me the other morning: ''Gingrich would win in New Hampshire.''
Gingrich, as the Republican candidate, would give Clinton the political fight of his life. He's the one Republican who might be able to out-talk the president!
Gingrich would be a whirlwind as a candidate. Indeed, he could be the 'new face' that many voters would be looking for.