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Kirk Offers Party Rules Seen Aimed at Jackson : Democratic Chairman Seeks to Prevent Another Divisive Fight Among Presidential Contenders

March 12, 1987|ROBERT SHOGAN | Times Political Writer

WASHINGTON — Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. called on party leaders Wednesday to follow a set of 1988 campaign guidelines intended to prevent Democrats from repeating the divisive battles that marred their 1984 nomination contest and to head off a possible revolt by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

In a speech to the National Press Club, Kirk did not mention Jackson or any other contender by name in outlining his proposed "resolves," which he had foreshadowed at a national committee meeting last November. But some party leaders viewed the idea as in part an attempt to serve notice on Jackson that the delegate selection rules and other issues he argued about through the 1984 campaign are no longer open to debate and bargaining.

'Running Against Party'

One of Kirk's proposals urges all candidates "to support and abide by the national party's delegate selection rules." Another admonishes presidential contenders not to seek the nomination by "running against the party itself" and to "resolve in advance to give their early and unqualified support to the Democratic nominee once the nomination is secured."

"These guidelines could apply to anyone, not just Jackson," said one national committee member from a Northern industrial state who preferred not to be identified. "But, if you look at the field of candidates for 1988, Jackson is the only wild card."

Some Democrats have been concerned that Jackson, who has already complained about the 1988 delegate selection rules, might attempt to run as an independent candidate if he is dissatisfied with the outcome of the primary campaign.

Might Cut Black Support

Others view this as improbable but worry that Jackson might make his discontent plain to black voters, now the most loyal of Democratic constituency groups, and thus reduce their support for the Democratic presidential candidate.

In a statement issued after the speech, Jackson, who has yet to announce his candidacy formally, struck a conciliatory note, at least for the time being. He noted that the 1988 delegate selection rules are still being reviewed but said: "I will run on the rules established by the party."

Jackson said also that, "if am not the choice of the people in the Democratic Party primary process, I fully expect to support the nominee of the party." He added: "And, if I am the nominee, I expect the full support of other candidates and of the national and state parties."

If Kirk's guidelines are followed by the 1988 Democratic contenders, they might also help prevent a recurrence of such controversies as the bitter dispute stemming from the preconvention endorsement of Walter F. Mondale, the party's ultimate standard bearer, by organized labor and other interest groups. Some of Mondale's rivals characterized him as dominated by special interests, a charge that many feel contributed to his landslide defeat by President Reagan.

To avoid such a dispute in this campaign, Kirk asked that all contenders pledge "not to run against Democratic constituencies," which he called a "short-sighted" tactic.

"The American electorate will draw its first impression of the Democratic Party of 1988 from the tone and conduct of the campaigns for the party's presidential nomination," Kirk warned in his speech. If the voters see the Democrats as "tough and disciplined" in conducting their nomination campaign, he contended, they would be more likely to entrust the party with the presidency.

Seeks Ban on Straw Polls

Kirk, who pledged his own neutrality as part of the proposed code of conduct, called also for a ban on straw polls by state parties, which many party leaders complained were disruptive to the 1984 campaign, as well as a promise by candidates to stress "positive themes and policy proposals" while avoiding a "negative campaign and personal attacks."

Although he has no legal authority to back up his proposals, Kirk announced formation of a task force of party leaders to help him monitor compliance with the guidelines. In addition, he said, he plans to meet next month with all 1988 Democratic presidential contenders to discuss the rules.

In response to a question after the speech, Kirk denied that his remarks were aimed specifically at Jackson, saying that "they were addressed to all candidates."

The initial reactions of the 1988 contenders indicated that, although they backed the idea of the guidelines in principle, they saw Kirk's idea as an opportunity to promote their own candidacies.

Hart Aide Praises Idea

William Dixon, campaign manager for former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, the front-runner in polls of Democratic voters, praised the guidelines as "excellent" but complained that Kirk did not ask all Democratic candidates to reject contributions from "single interest" political action committees, as Hart has done.

Duane Garrett, campaign chairman for former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, also backed Kirk's idea but said that Babbitt would operate on an even higher ethical level by pledging to make all of his radio and television commercials available to rival campaigns 24 hours before they are scheduled to go on the air for the first time.

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