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Solo or Team Photo?

POLITICS abhors a vacuum every bit as much as nature and human nature do. So it's not surprising that media types and political operatives are finding ways to fill the unusually long hiatus between the early climax of presidential primaries and the anticlimax of the conventions, after which the real race is joined.

Some of the time-filling involves advisers urging Senate majority leader Bob Dole to run, essentially, in the plural. The media-savvy wing of these advisers wants him to play up wife-lawyer-exec Libby Dole in contrast to wife-lawyer Hillary Clinton.

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The solid-policy advicemongers suggest a team-photo approach. This translates either to: (1) name your Cabinet designees early, or (2) run as a kind of baseball-card collection, with popular GOP governors and mayors filling infield and outfield positions (and, if possible, a star vice-presidential nominee swinging a heavy bat in the on-deck circle).

The trouble with this advice is that it undermines its main purpose. Instead of picking up Mr. Dole's own developing theme - "I'm a man of action not words" - it implies the candidate is a weak leader and needs lots of props to make him salable. No nominee needs that kind of help.

Having said that, let's stipulate that choosing a popular VP nominee before the convention could focus a lot of attention on the convention and policy proposals. And also that all nominees would do well to think seriously about their main Cabinet appointees long before the traditional period between election and inauguration. That time should be used, first, for recuperation and, second, for a running start on planning with the team all ready to go. None of this business of John Kennedy picking a secretary of state he didn't know so close to assuming office. Or Ronald Reagan not knowing before his second term how he was going to reshuffle his chief of staff and treasury secretary. Or President Clinton belatedly needing to find a spot for Mickey Kantor.

Actually announcing major Cabinet choices early doesn't make much sense. You set up lots of potential targets, distract from the candidate, and run the risk of seeming as cocksure as Tom Dewey. But thinking out your first string should help save time and missteps if you get to run the show.

It should be obvious why most of this comment is directed at the challenger, not the incumbent. The public knows the latter's Cabinet already. But it never hurts for the incumbent to think out his second-term team ahead of time - if he wins a new mandate. It's a rare president who doesn't need a fresh lineup for his later innings.

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