Jack Kemp, defeated as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1996, said Sunday he was making all the moves needed for a possible run for the White House in 2000.
But he said the 1998 congressional races should be the immediate focus of the Republican Party, and said "the American people do not want perpetual races for the presidency."He made the comments to reporters at a gathering of grass-roots Republicans from 13 states who earlier in the day heard one rising star - two-term Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma - say he was not interested in the presidency.
The three-day meeting has heard from a parade of potential top-of-the-ticket candidates.
"I plan to be very, very active in the party. I've stepped up traveling internationally. I just recenty returned from Harare, Zimbabwe, Johannesburg, Pretoria, speaking about internatonal trade . . . I want to go to Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America," Kemp told a news conference.
"I've started a political action committee. All of those things are part and parcel of being ready to make a decision," Kemp said, adding that the 1996 campaign "certainly whet my appetite."
He also said the party needed to campaign more in urban America and reconsider its stance against immigration if it is to become more inclusive and win back the White House.
Kemp said he would have voted for the recent balanced budget agreement, although "too much was compromised away."
Watts also defended the pact worked out between President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress. The agreement that was repeatedly condemned as a sell-out of principle by other speakers at the weekend Republican meeting.
Of his political future, the former University of Oklahoma football star said, "I do not seek to be the presidential candidate in the year 2000 . . . I am happy . . . I don't need to have president or vice president in front of my name to tell me what my values are."
He also told reporters after speaking to the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference that he feared the early attention on the next presidential election could distract his party from a more immediate challenge, the 1998 elections, and maintaining the control of Congress the party has enjoyed since 1994.