CARBONDALE, Ill. — Sen. Paul Simon, a tweedy yet folksy liberal Democrat from Southern Illinois' Little Egypt region, formally threw his trademark bow tie into the presidential sweepstakes Monday, declaring a candidacy that will deliberately stress thoughtfulness over flash.
"Nineteen eighty-eight is not going to be the year for a candidate slickly packaged like some new soft drink," declared Simon, 58, to a cheering, overflow house at an auditorium on the Southern Illinois University campus here. " . . . At every level of government, I have tried to play it straight with the public . . . . You get what you see and hear."
During appearances here in his home base and in Iowa, site of next February's pivotal party caucuses, Simon was at pains to distance himself in both style and substance from the crowded field of Democratic contenders, whom he assailed for drifting from the strong liberalism of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy.
Opposed Tax Revision
"I do not join those who want the Democratic Party to forget its heritage in order to become more acceptable to the wealthy and powerful," Simon said, noting that he was one of the few in Congress to oppose last year's sweeping tax revision bill as a sop to the rich. "If we do that, we will lose our soul and do a great disservice to the nation. I'm glad there is a Republican Party, but one Republican Party is enough."
To underscore that theme, Simon's platform is an old-line liberal blueprint, calling for increased educational spending, a revival of guaranteed jobs programs in the style of the Depression era and a healthy dose of government interventionism.
"I am willing to use the tools of government to solve the problems we have," he told students at an assembly in the Des Moines suburb of Indianola, to which he had flown to repeat the announcement of his candidacy.
And, suggesting that some of his opponents lacked political backbone, Simon vowed to risk unpopular positions rather than fashion his ideas to attract support. "It is absolutely essential that a President of the United States not hold his finger to the wind and not just say what is popular today," he told the students in answer to a question.
Antithesis of Hart
Simon, a one-time corruption-busting small town newspaper editor, Illinois state lawmaker, lieutenant governor and congressman, is the antithesis of the suave, telegenic politician epitomized by Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator who quit the race recently in a flap over alleged womanizing.
Simon's appeal is definitely not sex-appeal. He is a slight man who favors bow ties, horn-rimmed glasses, the wet look and somewhat baggy suits.
"He's not a blow-dried candidate," a senior Simon aide said in explaining a strategy of trading on such untrendiness. "There's a lot of blow-dried candidates on both sides, starting with (Republican) Jack Kemp. (Simon is) older, more experienced, with a better record, and he looks different."
To some extent, Simon is a study in contrasts. He is a key Senate spokesman for educational reform and funding, has written 11 scholarly books on subjects ranging from Abraham Lincoln to world hunger, and is widely regarded as the most erudite of the presidential contenders. Yet, he never finished college, dropping out after three years to buy a weekly newspaper. Although a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Simon is not an attorney; however, his wife, Jeanne, whom he met when both were members of the Illinois House, is a lawyer.
Although Simon was considered a long shot last month, when he first announced his intention to run, several recent polls have placed him ahead of many better known members of the Democratic field.
Third Place in Polls
A nationwide survey by Newsweek magazine released last week showed him to be the favorite of 9% of Democrats surveyed, behind the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 22% and Massachusetts' Gov. Michael S. Dukakis' 11%, but ahead of Missouri's Rep. Richard Gephardt, Delaware's Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, all of whom have been campaigning much longer.
A New York Times poll of Democrats released Sunday also put Simon in third place among Democrats who have either declared their candidacy or who have said they are considering it.
The senior aide, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said Simon's strong showing was an unexpected surprise. However, he acknowledged that the numbers may have been inflated by survey respondents who confused Simon with the pop singer of the same name.
"I have operated in the political sphere long enough to know not to look a gift horse in the mouth," he said.