Mass. governor's stock rising in GOP circles ON POLITICS


BOSTON -- Republican Gov. William F. Weld strides out of hi third-floor office in the Massachusetts State House to an assemblage of reporters waiting to fire questions he is ready and more than willing to hear.

They ask for his comment about the news that a man convicted of a particularly violent murder has just been released for "good time," after having served less than 10 years of an 18-to-20-year sentence for the crime.

Weld does not hesitate. "We've got to change the law," Weld says. ". . . My hope is that cases like this can light a fire where an intellectual appeal based on an appraisal of the merits of the system have not succeeded in moving the Legislature in the past."

This is Bill Weld reinforcing his reputation as a tough-on-crime governor, one half of his priority agenda for the second two years of his current four-year term, and for his bid for re-election next year. The other half, he says, is being tough on environmental protection, giving him what other conservatives in his party might call a political split personality.

Weld himself describes his posture as "right on crime, left on environment" as he charts his course for re-election and, some already are saying, a bid for national office in 1996, although he denies it.

Pairing the traditional conservative Republican posture on crime with what sounds like the traditional liberal Democratic position on the environment is only one aspect of Weld's political split personality in what he says he continues to be -- a GOP conservative.

He remains, he says, an economic supply-sider against the tax-and-spend Democratic policies that he charges President Clinton is continuing in spite of all his "new Democrat" rhetoric of the 1992 presidential campaign. At the same time, however, Weld is firmly and aggressively pro-choice on abortion in contradiction to the 1992 Republican platform, and outspokenly

TC supportive of homosexual rights in a party that contains few other advocates.

All this makes Bill Weld a very interesting political property as his party increasingly sees Clinton as vulnerable in 1996 and is already drawing up short lists of the best prospects to make him a one-term president.

Weld, with customary modesty when confronted with the possibility of running for president, says "I don't see it" and that it would be "almost presumptuous" to talk about being on a national ticket when he is only a first-term governor from a small state. But that didn't stop Jimmy Carter from running and winning in 1976, and Weld is hardly a peanut farmer from Georgia when it comes to the Washington scene, having served as a congressional aide and high Justice Department official.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Boston Security Analysts Inc. here the other night, Weld completely dodged a question about 1996, saying: "I'm running for '94 [for re-election]. I've got my hands full." And although his favorability rating in some polls is in the 70 percent range, he predicted a 52-48 finish in a race against a yet to be determined Democrat.

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy, the late Robert F. Kennedy's eldest son, had flirted with running against him, but Kennedy decided instead to run for another term in the U.S. House next year.

In the customary manner of a politician who wants to divert talk of running himself, Weld says he is very high on a pack of prominent national Republicans, from Jack Kemp and Bob Dole to Bush Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and Lynn Martin, the former Bush labor secretary.

Weld says, however, that he intends to be in the thick of efforts to prevent the GOP from "marginalizing itself" by taking exclusionary positions on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. For 1996, he says, "I'm going to get that [anti-] abortion plank out of the platform or die trying."

Sentiment already is strong within the party to do so, he says, but because the party's leader and nominee in 1992, President George Bush, was so categorically committed to that plank, it was politically untenable to challenge him on it. With Bush retired, Weld suggests, the task of adopting a more middle-road plank on abortion should be much less difficult.

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