Baker ready for campaign call-up

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PRESIDENT George Bush is expected to announce today that he is co-opting his old friend James Baker, the Secretary of State, into the White House to take effective control of his limping re-election campaign.

The announcement, which was signalled by several campaign sources yesterday, would be carefully timed to end confusion about Mr Baker's role before the start of the Republican convention in Houston on Monday. It would also come as Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, leaves Washington after an important five-day visit to the United States supervised by Mr Baker.

Speculation has been rife for weeks about an imminent transfer for Mr Baker, who left the Treasury Department during the 1988 campaign to take over as Mr Bush's campaign tsar. In recent days, however, rumours suggested Mr Bush was having second thoughts about removing Mr Baker from the foreign policy scene while so much is at stake internationally, notably in the Middle East and in Bosnia.

Confirming that a decision has been made, White House sources said Mr Baker would not join the Bush-Quayle campaign itself, but would act as a special counsellor to the President. This would allow him to influence the campaign without being seen to oust Samuel Skinner, the White House Chief of Staff, or Robert Teeter, the campaign chairman; they are expected to retain their jobs in spite of much criticism.

There is a chance that Mr Bush will use the announcement to respond to calls from many Republicans to reshuffle his cabinet and jettison his unpopular economic chiefs: Dick Darman, the Budget Director, and Nicholas Brady, the Treasury Secretary. Even though both could be made convenient scapegoats for Mr Bush's 1990 retreat on his 'no new taxes' pledge, insiders said such a move remained unlikely as it risked adding to the perception of internal strife in the White House.

The timing of Mr Baker's move is uncertain. It could be that announcing the change will be enough to settle Republican nerves at the Houston convention; Mr Baker could remain at the State Department long enough to seat the Arabs and Israelis at the negotiating table when the Middle East peace talks resume in Washington on 24 August.

The mere confirmation that he will enter the fray, with two months to go until the election, will be enough to lift rock-bottom morale among Republicans and campaign staff, who have been sniping for weeks at Mr Skinner for failing to exert discipline on the White House. 'They absolutely hate Skinner and the whole of his team and with good cause,' one insider remarked.

It is expected that Mr Baker will bring his long-serving spokeswoman, Margaret Tutwiler, and his respected Under-Secretary, Robert Zoellick, with him to the White House. More dangerously for the Democratic camp, it is thought likely that he will bring back Roger Ailes, the veteran polical ad-man who was credited with crafting the imagery of Mr Bush's victorious campaign over Michael Dukakis in 1988.

The Democrats, who will be watching for Mr Baker's first moves with anxiety, will inevitably attempt to score points by depicting the President as putting re- election politics over the needs of foreign policy. Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee in Congress are likely to grill Mr Baker about the potential damage to US diplomacy, especially in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Lawrence Eagleburger, Mr Baker's deputy in the State Department, would be expected to take over as acting Secretary of State. He will be able to remain in that position until the election, without having to go through appointment hearings in Congress. Were Mr Bush to win in November, Mr Baker, who is known to be leaving his post most reluctantly, would be free to return to the diplomatic arena.

Just how far Mr Baker will be able to influence the campaign as a special counsellor is unclear. Most Republican insiders hope he will have powers over almost every aspect of the re-election effort, including the make-up of the television advertising campaign. His first job will be to give clear public focus to the White House and the President and to enforce discipline. 'He's got to cut out all the background chatter you hear now and get one clear message out every day,' one official remarked.

(Photograph omitted)