DESPITE SOME INDICATIONS to the contrary, it seems to me that the suggestion that Gen. Colin Powell could end up as Bob Dole's running mate is taking on credibility.
After declaring himself unavailable for the presidential primaries - and talking as though he would not be willing to take any spot on the ticket this fall - Powell has for months been playing the role of a political sideliner. As he hawked his autobiography, he spoke as a lecturer and not as a potential candidate. He did nothing to encourage those who would like to start a Powell boomlet for the vice presidency.But then, quite recently, the general attended a fund-raiser for Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and, with Dole at his side, provided the attendees with a look at what he could do as a crowd pleaser and glad-hander.
When the subject of his being on the ticket was raised by reporters at the gathering, Powell was a little playful. Smiling, he said to one inquirer: "I'm sure the senator (Dole) and I will have many conversations in the months ahead."
But later he said his position of disinterest in the vice presidency was "unchanged."
As a longtime interpreter of what is known as "political speak," I find Powell's words just about what most potential vice presidential candidates usually say before they are tapped for the job.
Oh, I know that since that fund-raiser Dole has expressed doubts that he could change Powell's mind about taking the No. 2 spot on the ticket. But he hasn't ruled out an "August surprise" - a full-court press on the general at the convention in which he might well persuade Powell to be his running mate with a "do-it-for-your-party-and-your-country" plea.
Yes, I do think the general has left the door slightly open. My informants still tell me he could be talked into running if he likes Dole's message and he thinks that his presence on the ticket could contribute substantially to a victory.
Several days before Powell went to Hampton, Va., and appeared at that fund-raiser alongside Dole, the Kansas senator had made a move that could have pleased Powell very much. Dole's new position on abortion - where he remains a pro-lifer but extends a hand of tolerance to pro-choicers - does this if nothing else: It makes room for pro-choicer Powell.
I understand that Powell would also want to feel that by running, he could make a decisive difference in the outcome. My guess is that although Dole is bound to narrow the big Clinton lead (indeed, new polls show this already coming about) the presence of Powell on the ticket will, by convention time, be an essential ingredient for a Dole victory.