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Dave Helfert Headshot

"Oh yeah. You're the one."

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We're well into one of the most entertaining phases of the presidential selection process. Potential candidates are surveying rivals to make a decision about running, so they're all busy searching their conscience, discussing it with their family and consulting with their advisors and supporters. Perhaps they'll pray over it, and almost certainly shoot a poll or two. But unless every one of their consultees and discussees say something like, "Have you lost your freaking mind?", most would-be candidates will hear the clarion call to serve. And, they'll make a selfless decision to put aside their own comfort and financial security -- even what's best for their families -- to answer it. Heavy is the burden of leadership that is thrust upon them.

One of the great challenges in political communication is to make these borderline pompous musings sound humble and altruistic. But, most of the candidates are up to it. Some have to work a little to overcome any self-doubt and insecurity, but see the job as important enough to deserve the effort. Others just look at themselves in the mirror and say, "Oh yeah. You're the one."

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum said this week, "If someone gets in the race that I feel really comfortable could do things that need to be done -- both winning and governing -- then maybe this is a chance to say, 'Let this cup pass.'" Seriously? If Santorum can ignore an 18-point re-election loss and feel a wave building to wash him into the White House, we're probably not going to see a lot of cup-passing.

Mitt Romney, Republican runner-up in 2008, has never stopped running for President. Yet somehow, he's still not sure about 2012, telling Fox News, "I haven't made that decision yet. That's something we'll decide when we have to, which is going to be probably at the end of the year, or even a little after that." Apparently he's already finished the obligatory consultation with his conscience, family, advisors and supporters.

It isn't that Sarah Palin wants to run for President, but she may simply have no choice. "If there's nobody else to do it, then of course I would believe that we should do this."

She's also said "her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table." Her unique qualities are beyond debate, even if they're limited to giving the Republican establishment hives over the prospect of one of the greatest debacles since the Charge of the Light Brigade. However, her decision is first and foremost "a matter of conscience and conviction."

Clearly, a long resume is not required. I think we're all familiar with a fellow who served a few terms in the Illinois legislature, spent only a couple of years in Congress, and then had the chutzpah to run for President of the United States. His name was Lincoln.

Perhaps one of the most humble political leaders in our history turned out to be one of our most iconic: George Washington. For someone of his accomplishment, in the presidential election of 1789, he was strikingly close to believing himself unworthy, even giving occasional voice to his self-doubts. Of course, George was not completely devoid of ambition. In 1775, when the Second Continental Congress was casting about for someone to lead the army, he showed up for work every day in a military uniform, just in case anyone had forgotten that he'd served as an officer in the Virginia Militia during the French and Indian War. And at nearly 6'4", he was an imposing self-promoter.

A long time ago, a political oracle whose name I cannot recall told me, "Modest people do not seek political office." Today, after 35 years of working and interacting with legions of politicians at City Hall, the Texas Legislature, in the Clinton Administration, on the Hill and in more than 200 campaigns, I have not yet met the exception.

The good news is that, while all of them may have "robust" egos, a great many believe they have the ability to make a difference; that they could actually accomplish something worthwhile. Others, however, just conclude that their names would sound better with a title in front.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility in the selection process to determine which candidates for President are running because they really deep down believe they have what it takes to make a difference, and which ones stand in front of the mirror every morning and say, "Oh yeah. You're the one."