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Affixed to the office door here at 1 AdReview Centre is a treasured memento of the 1996 presidential primaries. It's a campaign video, in the original shrinkwrap. The jacket has a red plaid background beneath a quite underexposed photo of a smiling politician. Above, in white reverse type: Lamar!

Whoops! He lost!

We display this keepsake not just because it is a forlorn artifact of a pitiful campaign for the Republican nomination, but because we have a sneaking suspicion Lamar Alexander will be the next elected president of the U.S. He needs to accomplish only two things: 1) Raise a lot of money, telling donors America likes former Southern governors but not android former senators; 2) Film an Endust commercial.

Or Skippy or John Hancock or Auto-by-Tel. Anything, so long as its subject is how Lamar! got trounced in the primaries, and so long as the joke is on him.

While America surely likes a winner, what we really adore is a gracious loser. A career of public service is nice, but the only surefire way to win the respect and affection of the voters is to be pummelled bloody in the election, then bask in the hilarious ignominy of it.

Call it the William ("Do you know me?") Miller Effect, since embraced by Mario Cuomo, Ann Richards and, most recently, Bob Dole. First he was the butt of the joke for the Visa debit card. Now-via Martin/Williams, Minneapolis-he's doing an Olathe, Kan., supermarket grand opening.

"My fellow Kansans," he says, dressed senatorially in a stately office. "For years I proudly served as your voice in our nation's capital. Now my career in politics is over, but I remain committed to providing you, the people of Kansas, with better opportunities, better resources and better choices. With this in mind I would like to ask all of you one question:

"Paper or plastic?"

This cuts to a couple of title cards. "It's a grocery store," the screen says. "It's a Target Store."

Very self-deprecating. Very adorable.

The payoff would have been better, of course, had there been a quick scene change, with the previously idle retiree at a Target checkout counter wearing a "BOB" name badge, short-sleeve shirt and loosely hitched polyester necktie. Then the "paper or plastic" line. (From Nixon to Target, we could muse-once a bagman, always a bagman.) But we suppose there's only so much dignity we can expect to be waived.

Never mind Dole's smarmy smile, which we've now seen more in two commercials than we did in two presidential campaigns. Never mind his shifty TelePrompTer eyes; shifty-eyed politicians we're accustomed to. And never mind the dubious benefit to Kansas. If there are any small Main Street grocers and general merchandisers left in Olathe, they may not be too sold on the benefit of a SuperTarget.

What matters is we all love Bob for being a good sport.

People who eight months ago thought he was a sourpussed, opportunistic, inside-the-beltway dealcutter will love him, and people who thought he sold out to the conservative cause will love him. What 30 years in Congress couldn't do for his image, 30 seconds in the commercial break will.

Alas, come Decision 2000, he will be 143 years old, and probably won't run. This presents a golden opportunity.

We're prepared to adore you, too, Lamar! But you need to be less underexposed. Just get a commercial gig, and remind us what a loser you are.

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