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Politics: This Year's October Surprise?

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The most complicated service that can happen in an American church is a presidential funeral. And last week, the Secret Service began planning a very large funeral at Ronald Reagan's church, Bel Air Presbyterian on Mulholland Drive. Neighbors of the church say Secret Service agents asked to secure more parking for what they simply referred to as "a funeral." The Secret Service declined to comment, and Joanne Drake, Reagan's chief of staff, confirmed that Bel Air Presbyterian is the Reagans' church, but said she's not aware of any funeral planning. "He's doing as well as can be expected," she said when asked about his health. "He's 89 years old and he has Alzheimer's disease, which is a progressive disease."

"If they're making calls to secure more parking for a funeral at Reagan's church, they've got to be thinking it's happening soon," said a federal law-enforcement official, who noted that the agency usually doesn't contact civilians as part of its planning process unless it has to. "Why risk the public speculation?"

The speculation, in an election season, inevitably revolves around what impact the death of a beloved former president would have on the presidential campaign. If a presidential funeral occurs at Bel Air Presbyterian before the election, the campaign would disappear behind a curtain of retrospectives, tributes, and saturation coverage. Republicanism's best image would be reinforced for days. George Bush would be offered plenty of network opportunities to fondly reflect on his former boss, which would give voters a look at his human side and help his son. All Gore would be able to do is attend the funeral and slip back into Clinton's shadow. In his final public moment, the grand old man of the Grand Old Party might well help elect a Republican president.


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