Forbes enriches race for White House

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Washington - And then they were ten. Today the Republican presidential field reaches double figures, in the unlikely but engaging person of Malcolm "Steve" Forbes Jr, writes Rupert Cornwell.

He is heir to the Forbes publishing empire, a dedicated economic supply- sider and a would-be purveyor of good cheer to the thus-far "glum" campaign of 1996.

For weeks now Mr Forbes, 48, has been making no secret of his readiness to spend up to $25m (pounds 16m) of his own money on his White House bid. Immediately after formally announcing his candidacy at the National Press Club here, he will begin campaigning in key early-primary states such as New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida, and will launch an advertising blitz promoting his pet theme of a 17 per cent flat tax to replace income tax.

He does not have the slightest chance of winning the nomination and his entry into the race has been eclipsed by the increasingly likely candidate Colin Powell, now in a statistical dead-heat with Bob Dole for the Republican nomination should he choose to seek it, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

But, as an economic conservative, Mr Forbes could take votes from Senator Phil Gramm, Mr Dole's closest declared rival for the nomination, while his more relaxed views on abortion and other social issues could appeal to Republican moderates.

And though he has neither political experience nor theflamboyance of his father, Malcolm, he fills a niche on the "Wall Street wing" of his party which has been unoccupied since Jack Kemp took himself out of the race last year.

Most of all, he is banking on his appeal to the investment community. Big business and finance have been muted in this presidential season. Wall Street has taken neither to the dour orthodoxy of Mr Dole nor to the joyless cost-cutting propounded by Mr Gramm.