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Federal File: Stickin' around; Education presidents

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Billy Webster, the South Carolina businessman who left the fast-food world to serve as Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's chief of staff, has decided to remain at his post.

Mr. Webster was scheduled to step down this month and return to his home state. But President Clinton, the First Lady, and Secretary Riley persuaded him to stay on.

Part of Mr. Clinton's arm-twisting technique reportedly included a morning jog with Mr. Webster, who is an avid runner.

A department spokesman said Mr. Webster has not indicated how long he will stay with the department.

Lamar Alexander and William J. Bennett finished second and eighth, respectively, in the first straw poll for the 1996 Presidential campaign.

Mr. Alexander, who served as Secretary of Education under President George Bush, received 205 votes, or 15 percent, in the Iowa Republican Party straw poll, which was conducted last month in Des Moines. Mr. Bennett, who was Secretary under President Ronald Reagan and was later Mr. Bush's "drug czar,'' received 59 votes, or 4 percent.

Billed as the unofficial kickoff of the campaign, the straw poll was conducted more than two years before the election and much earlier than usual. A Republican spokeswoman said the state has received several visits from potential candidates recently, so party officials decided to act.

More than 1,300 people paid $25 each to cast their votes for one of 23 potential G.O.P. candidates; the state party raised about $42,000.

Mr. Alexander has all but declared himself a candidate for the 1996 race. He holds monthly town meetings on his Republican Exchange Satellite Network.

Mr. Bennett, the author of a current best seller, The Book of Virtues, both has expressed an interest in competing for the Republican nomination and has said he will not run.

The Senate minority leader, Bob Dole of Kansas, finished first in the poll with 356 votes, or 27 percent. Former Vice President Dan Quayle finished sixth with 81 votes, or 6 percent. Other vote-getters included former Labor Secretary Lynn Martin, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and the conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.

Eight people voted for "none of the above.''--MARK PITSCH

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