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Former Montana governor coy about helping Bush for 2004
Gazette file photo Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, left, and President Bush walk to Air Force One just before the presidential plane left for Michigan on March 27, 2001, after the president's two-day visit to Billings. Racicot may become part of Bush's re-election campaign.

WASHINGTON — Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot can see a future filled with possibilities, though he won't say whether he may soon play a key role in President Bush's re-election campaign.

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that Racicot will leave his post as chairman of the Republican Party to lead his friend's effort to win re-election in 2004.

"I don't know anything more than what was in the paper today," Racicot said on Tuesday, in reference to the story in which Republican sources said he would switch jobs. "I haven't had a conversation with anyone about anything."

In an interview on April 30, Racicot, who served as Montana's governor from 1993 to 2000, said he was uncertain what he would do in the future.

"I have absolutely no idea," Racicot said from his office two blocks south of the Capitol.

He left open the possibility that he would run for office again, but hinted that he would prefer to continue working for President Bush, whose smiling portrait hangs in the waiting room outside his office.

"I have no presently existing plans to be engaged as a candidate for anything at this time," Racicot said. "I am not foolish enough to say 'never.' I would never say never. I can't envision a circumstance that would have me involved as a candidate. I very much enjoy advocating for others."

Racicot, who also served as Montana attorney general from 1989 to 1993, forged a friendship with Bush when the president was governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000 and the two men worked together on National Governors Association initiatives.

Racicot would not rule out a race for the Senate, but he is not spending much time in his old stomping grounds. He said he returned to Montana only a half-dozen times in the last year, including Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Montana is not scheduled to hold another Senate election until 2006. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns completes his third term in January 2007 and will be 71.

Job arrangement Racicot said he plans to continue working for Bracewell & Patterson, the Houston law firm that hired him in 2001 and continues to pay him a salary even though he does not do much work for it.

As he has previously, Racicot defended the arrangement.

After accepting the chairmanship of the Republican Party, Racicot stopped lobbying for Enron Corp. and the firm dropped Enron as a client in January 2002.

"I have certainly provided advice and counsel to some private people with private business activities that have not been governmentally related," Racicot said.

"So I have done some things, but it has been very limited. So as a result of that I have honored the terms of the employment agreement and they were in such a frame of mind that they thought (leading the Republican Party) was something constructive for me to be engaged in and they acquiesced to my involvement."

Staying in touch The chairman stays in close contact with issues and the party's internal issues debate. Racicot regularly joins a Tuesday lunch meeting at which Republican senators discuss policy issues. Racicot and Burns both say the former governor keeps his ears open and his mouth shut during the lunches.

"He listens a lot more than he talks," Burns said. "Marc is a good listener. You know he gets the tenor of things and then acts accordingly."

Although Racicot is frugal with his words, he does keep the senators on the straight and narrow. "If we go too far off of the path, why, then we will hear from him," Burns said.

Burns and Racicot declined to give examples of when Republican senators had strayed and the chairman got them back in line.

"That's talking within your own family and I am not going to do that," Burns said.

Racicot's low profile is partly related to the nature of his job. As Republican Party chairman, he travels the country working to strengthen the national and state Republican parties.

"Marc Racicot is quietly traveling around the country and spreading the message," said Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who served as lieutenant governor of Montana from 1991 to 1996. "He can never overshadow the president."

Racicot said that from Feb. 1, 2002, to Nov. 30, 2002, he left Washington, D.C., 90 times and visited 40 states.

"I can remember leaving one day to go to Madison, Wis., and then the next day I was in LaCrosse, Wis., and then that night I was in Minnesota and then the next day I was in Minnesota," Racicot said. "I did that 90 different times. It's a necessity. You have to work with your committees around the country."

Explaining the West Racicot said Republican losses in the Wyoming governor's race and Montana Senate race in 2002 were not a reflection on the party or the Republican candidates.

"What I understand about the West is that people are ruggedly independent and they make a lot of independent judgments that are not necessarily automatic or predictable from election to election," he said.

Besides defending the Republican Party's efforts in the West in 2002, Racicot also defended his stewardship of Montana. He said that there was nothing his administration could have done to prevent the current budget deficit. He defended the decision to deregulate the state's electrical power industry.

"When I left office I believe there was a $150 million surplus," Racicot said. "When I came into office there was a $250 million deficit. So, those are the facts and everyone will have to draw their own conclusions."

Racicot said that as with the budget deficit, there was no way for him to foresee the problems that have occurred with deregulation.

"There was no energy crisis at the time," Racicot said. "There appeared to be ample supplies of energy. Deregulation would have been successful if ample investments in new generation and transmission had been made," he said.