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SCHIAVO CASE BOOSTED JEB BUSH

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said repeatedly that he is not interested in running for president in 2008 to succeed his brother George. And his mother Barbara, the matriarch of the family, has said that she believes that two members of the Bush family in the White House are enough for now.

Despite his disclaimer and his mother's position, many Republican strategists will be pressuring him to seek the presidency, and it's entirely possible that he will yield and make the run. He has never made the categorical statement that he would reject the Republican bid if he were nominated.

Gov. Bush was a beneficiary of the tragic Terri Schiavo case. Even though his efforts to keep her alive failed to pass judicial review, they cemented his conservative and religious credentials. Schiavo's father criticized the governor for not taking still another step, which the governor said he could not take because of legal impediments.

The governor, even his critics admit, has a deep-seated opposition to abortion and euthanasia, and his actions were motivated, I believe, by these feelings rather than politics. Be that as it may, the governor did benefit from the national publicity about the case. Prior to his efforts to have Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted, Gov. Bush was not too well known throughout the country, although he was well liked and respected by his Florida constituency, which elected him twice.

I find it hard to believe that Republican stalwarts will not exercise all their efforts to persuade Jeb Bush to become a presidential candidate. He has the name recognition, the money and the government experience that party leaders relish in a candidate.

And let's not forget that when the president completes his second term, he can't stand for re-election again, leaving a major void in the life of his chief political honcho, Karl Rove. Rove, I fully expect, will do all he can to get Jeb Bush involved in a presidential race. Rove has politics in his blood. It's a game he's good at, and he's very influential with President Bush.

Observers should also note that the president has not seconded the opinion of his mother about Jeb's future. Nor has the president's father, the former president. These two men, if they agreed with Barbara Bush, most certainly would have reinforced her opinion that Jeb should sit out the next presidential campaign.

If the efforts of father, brother and political guru Rove fail to convince Jeb Bush that he ought to become a candidate for the presidency, what other options are available to the Republican Party?

Waiting in the wings and most eager to be anointed as the Republican candidate for the presidency are many with good name recognition and in many cases fine records in government. None, however, combine all the positive attributes of Jeb Bush. Out there and eager to be tapped are Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City; George Pataki, the longtime governor of New York State, and Milt Romney, governor of Massachusetts. All are too liberal to gain the support of the incumbent president.

Anxious for the nomination is Bill Frist, the Republican Senate majority leader and a man with no charisma who would be a weak candidate. There's also Sen. John McCain, who would attract considerable support but because of his past record would be difficult for President Bush to accept -- although he has supported the president's Social Security reform program and has campaigned with him on that. The social conservatives would be happy with Sen. Rick Santorum, but he fails to meet the test of public recognition and would not attract middle-of-the road voters.

Any way you look at the political picture, you have to anticipate that there will be an all-out push to change the position of Jeb Bush. And if the Democrats anoint Hillary Clinton, wouldn't it result in a fascinating presidential campaign?

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.