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WILSON'S WEAKNESSES INTANGIBLE

On paper, California's entry in the 1996 presidential sweepstakes, Gov. Pete Wilson, has it all:

Clout. Governor of the nation's largest state, home of 17 percent of the delegates needed to nominate a Republican candidate at next year's convention (to be held in his hometown, no less) and 20 percent of the electoral votes required to elect him.Geography. President Clinton must have California in order to win, now that the South has deserted en masse. Who better to keep it from him than its governor?

Winner. Came back from a 25-point deficit early in 1994 to win by 15 points over the charismatic heiress to the dazzling Brown dynasty. In three decades, he has lost one primary and never been out of office.

Money. California is awash in it, and he's shown a knack for extracting it: "Three of us will have the table stakes for this shootout."

Resume. Five years in the California Legislature, 12 years as mayor of San Diego, eight years as U.S. senator, two terms as governor. What's left? Guess.

But somewhere, a tiny voice warns: "Don't place your bets just yet."

Some of his debits are easily tabulated: A pro-choice stance in a party whose activist core is strongly pro-life. The largest state tax increase in U.S. history ($7 billion). A Democratic lieutenant governor and legislature waiting to bedevil his life as he campaigns, and take his seat if he wins.

But his most serious weaknesses are less tangible and more visceral.

During a Phoenix visit last weekend, before a GOP fund-raising audience and in a meeting with local scribes, Wilson was variously pleasant, dull, articulate, confident, elusive, earnest and yet, curiously unsatisfying. There was something missing . . . an inner core, a political soul.