SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In his first interview since dropping out of the presidential race 10 days ago, California Gov. Pete Wilson offered a candid evaluation of his doomed bid for the White House -- starting with his early consideration of a vice presidential candidacy under Sen. Bob Dole and his later realization that even his support in California was unexpectedly soft.
Mr. Wilson disclosed to the Times that he met with Mr. Dole in Washington in February when he was still considering a presidential campaign that would have pitted him against his longtime friend, the Senate majority leader. Mr. Wilson said he was under the impression that Mr. Dole would offer him a role as running mate, but during the meeting he realized that he was mistaken.
"I had been led by a person close to him to expect that [offer], and I think largely that turned out to be a function of this person's desire," Mr. Wilson said. "Whatever enthusiasm [Mr. Dole] may have had for that, I don't know."
The California governor said he might have accepted the potential job of vice president instead of running for the White House himself.
"I probably would not have said to him, 'No,' " Mr. Wilson continued. "But it was not something that I was looking for.
"I might have entertained the idea with him, but it's not as interesting a job as this one, except with respect to defense and foreign policy."
Mr. Wilson said he subsequently decided that he could beat Mr. Dole in a Republican primary and, in March, he launched his own presidential exploratory committee.
Mr. Wilson said he is no longer interested in serving as vice president.
"This is a better job," the governor repeated.
Mr. Wilson discussed a number of setbacks that he blamed for the demise of his campaign -- such as the throat surgery that kept him on the sidelines for more than two months -- but he said that even with the problems he never lost confidence that he could win the White House.
In fact, Mr. Wilson made it clear that he believes he was forced out of the race by structural problems in his campaign, not by a personal failing as a candidate.
And he said he remains convinced that his campaign theme was popular and that his strategy to win the White House was working right up to the day he ran out of money.
"It was very painful [to quit], particularly because you can tell when arguments actually work and when they don't," Mr. Wilson said.
"Contrary to the smug assertion by the pundits, where the message was actually heard, it had great resonance. I think that plain and simple, with the exception of a few major skirmishes, we never got into the war," he said.