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Even though President Clinton has been in office only eight months, prominent Republicans are already jostling for their party's nomination to run against him in 1996.

While one former Secretary of Education appears to be very much in the thick of the early going, another recently disclaimed interest in the race.

William J. Bennett, who headed the Education Department from 1985-88, served notice this month that he is dropping out of the early jockeying by saying he would not establish a political-action committee, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

The weekly paper said Mr. Bennett has been focusing some of his activities on promoting a school-voucher initiative on the California ballot in November.

"I decided that running for President was not what I want to do for the next three years,'' Mr. Bennett told Roll Call. "I decided the things I care about--education and the culture--were things that the President can't necessarily fix.''

But another former Secretary, Lamar Alexander, is already hitting the hustings--electronically, at least--in his potential Presidential campaign.

As chairman of something called the Republican Exchange Satellite Network, Mr. Alexander is hosting a monthly satellite meeting that he calls the Republican Neighborhood Meeting.

As a vehicle for discussing Republican ways of governing, the meeting allows the former Secretary to spend one evening each month with leading party members. Their discussion, located in different cities each month, is then beamed live across the country.

During the network's first meeting in May, Mr. Alexander and his guests pondered the question: "Can you make a difference in your neighborhood schools?''

The network is governed by a leadership council that includes a number of former Education Department officials, such as Chester E. Finn, David T. Kearns, and Carolynn Reid-Wallace.

Current Education Department officials, meanwhile, have also been spending much of this month on the road, visiting schools as part of the department's promotion of back-to-school activities, education reform and the national education goals, and the Clinton Administration's education agenda.

Nine assistant secretaries and senior staff members joined Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin in visiting schools in cities across the country.--M.P.

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