Small in the Saddle

updated 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

WHEN THE TV WESTERN WAS IN ITS PRIME, the current posse of presidential hopefuls were still in short pants—and spending their afternoons wearing holsters, bandannas and kid-size versions of the 10-gallon hat. "When I was 6, I wanted to be a cowboy," says Malcolm Forbes's son Steve, 48, a Manhattan publisher who is now rarely seen out of pinstripes. Down in Arkansas, Bill Clinton roamed the imaginary range with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and childhood buddy Mack McLarty. "Everyone had a cowboy suit," says McLarty, 49, a Clinton advisor. "We used to play after school, taking turns at who'd be the good guys."

Nowadays, more than a few of those tough little hombres are trying to put some gitalong in them Washington dogies. "Newt was a big John Wayne fan," says the Speaker's mom, Kit Gingrich. Rep. Bob Dornan (R-Calif.) even rode with Wayne, working as an extra in two westerns, The Comancheros and Rio Bravo. Dornan, 62, says that as a kid he thought a cowboy's life herding cattle sounded too tame. "The cavalry fought Indians, and I wanted to be in the cavalry," he says.

Now, as they hit the campaign trail, these former cowpokes—some whose hats are already in the presidential ring, and some who are still sitting on the corral fence—might want to climb back on Old Paint. After all, says pundit Art Buchwald, "the perfect campaign picture would be a cowboy on a horse kissing a baby. It's worth a million votes."

From Our Partners