BOSTON -- When another presidential campaign is starting up and a politician announces he's not going to run in it because he wants to spend more time with his family, as Republican Gov. Bill Weld did the other day, the wise guys in politics just grin. They immediately translate that reason into his fear of losing or not being able to raise enough money or being chased out of the race by some issue.
In Weld's case, his decision not to seek the presidency in 1996 came shortly after the declaration by Ralph Reed, executive director of the anti-abortion Christian Coalition, that he would urge his followers to oppose any presidential or vice presidential nominee who defended abortion rights, as Weld does. But he insists that declaration had nothing to do with his no-go decision, and as if by way of punctuating the point, he says he would accept the 1996 Republican vice presidential nomination if offered to him.
It really was concern about time lost with teen-age and younger children (he has five), rather than Reed's threat or even the need to raise millions in campaign funds, that led him to pass up the 1996 race, Weld says. He tells about his 11-year-old daughter reading "aloud to me a whole column in the Boston Globe about Secret Service agents chasing Chelsea Clinton around" her private school in Washington "and saying, 'Dad, you can't do this.' "
As for the money, the Massachusetts governor says he had a plan laid out to raise from $16 million to $20 million by the end of January 1996 -- the amount declared candidate Phil Gramm insists, with more than a little intimidation, that it will take to run. But at age 49, Weld can easily afford to wait four or eight years to seek the presidency.
Weld's re-election in November with 71 percent of the vote in one of the most Democratic states in the union suggests he will be around then, either as governor, senator or some other high-visibility job, to seek the White House. In the meantime, he says, he will be vocally in support of his brand of fiscally conservative, socially progressive Republicanism -- including abortion rights.
Aware that leading Democrats have seized on Reed's declaration, and on the eagerness of some Republicans to make abortion the issue in President Clinton's nomination of Dr. Henry Foster to be surgeon general, Weld expresses the hope that his party will not let abortion dominate the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego.
"I hope the grownups are in charge of the store when we get down to crunch time," he says. The leading presidential prospects -- Gramm, Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander and Pete Wilson -- "all agree that you don't want to read half of the Republican Party out of the party" on one issue, he says. Well, what if prospective candidates Pat Buchanan and Bob Dornan, both strongly anti-abortion, say their divisive pieces from the convention platform? "Like I say," Weld replies, "I hope the grownups will be in charge by that point."
Referring to the exclusionary observations of Buchanan and televangelist Pat Robertson at the GOP convention in Houston in 1992, Weld says, "We can't send out Houston vibrations" if the Republicans hope to capture the White House in 1996. The party, he says, "must lead on taxes, fiscal policy, balanced budget, welfare, crime, the size and role of government."
Weld also is likely to be a leading voice in the developing Republican opposition to affirmative action. He predicts that the debate "may shift from a race-based effort to economic-based efforts" to achieve equal opportunity, and to the extent that happens, "it's less explosive." In Massachusetts, he has been dismantling much of the affirmative action enforcement machinery while achieving a state government workforce of more than 50 percent women and 17 percent minorities.
Weld as a vice presidential nominee seems unlikely right now, with Massachusetts as a Democratic stronghold worth only 12 electoral votes. But as a voice for unity and inclusion in a party that could risk both if "the grownups" aren't in charge in San Diego, he isn't likely to drop off the political radar screen, either, between now and the Republican convention.