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Dukakis, Gephardt Emerge in a Search for Surrogates

May 31, 1987|William Schneider | William Schneider is a contributing editor to Opinion

WASHINGTON — The race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination was supposed to be between New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart. It still may be. Only now, with Cuomo and Hart out of the race, their constituencies are turning to other candidates to act as surrogates.

Jesse Jackson is still the only candidate in the Democratic race with a national reputation. But two other contenders have been moving up to fill the void left by the Cuomo and Hart withdrawals: Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt.

The 1988 nominating process begins in Iowa, and campaigning has been most intense there. The latest poll of Iowa Democrats shows Gephardt jumping from 9% to 24%, catapulting him into first place. Jackson and Dukakis also improved their standing, to 13% and 11% respectively. No other Democrat has reached double digits.

Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, the latest Democrat to enter the race, has also picked up some support, but most analysts attribute that to the "Graceland" factor. Simon has a suspiciously high level of name recognition, which suggests that many voters may be confusing him with the pop singer. ("Is Art Garfunkel available for vice president?" desperate Democrats have been heard to ask.)

A pattern seems to be forming in the Democratic race. Dukakis is becoming the Establishment liberal. That is the Cuomo role. Like Cuomo, Dukakis is a Northeastern governor with urban ethnic roots (Greek Orthodox, with a Jewish wife). He is admired by Cuomo and endorsed by home-state Sen. Edward M. Kennedy--who remarked, "I always said we should have a President from Massachusetts."

Unlike Cuomo, Dukakis has a cool and pragmatic image. No one has ever used "passionate" or "soulful" to describe Dukakis. But he passes all the liberal litmus tests. (Or almost all. Gay activists oppose him because he refused to permit homosexuals in his state to serve as foster parents.) Dukakis is a conventional liberal, which means he is a centrist on the Massachusetts political spectrum. (According to the conservative National Review, that makes him a Maoist in national politics.) After a shaky start in Iowa--he suggested that bankrupt farmers grow Belgian endive, and was quickly labeled the champion of yuppie agriculture--Dukakis has been gaining support from that state's considerable liberal base.

Dukakis has two additional advantages. He is credited with masterminding his state's spectacular economic boom. That sounds like just what the country needs after Ronald Reagan--a good manager. Moreover, Dukakis made his career as a reformer running against corrupt pols. That sounds like just what the country needs after the Hart fiasco--a squeaky clean candidate. No great vision, perhaps, but do we really need inspirational leadership after eight years of Reagan?

Dukakis has spent his entire political life in Massachusetts, a state with no real Republicans. (Its Republican Party, whose last important figure was Elliot L. Richardson, has become a joke.) Dukakis's aggressive use of government would be called state socialism by many conservatives, but it is not the slightest bit controversial in Massachusetts. And it is not likely to be a problem for him in the 1988 Democratic primaries.

Several of Hart's top political operatives have already gone over to the Dukakis campaign. Those are people who supported Hart not because he was an insurgent but because he was the front-runner. Said one, "I always work for the most liberal candidate who has a realistic chance of winning." As the emerging E s tablishment liberal, Dukakis is signing up key Washington operatives like political consultant Anne Wexler. Look for Dukakis to be endorsed by nuclear-freeze groups, women's-rights activists, good-government leaders, abortion-rights advocates and environmentalists.

What would a Dukakis Administration look like? It would look like the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where Dukakis spent his one term out of office. We would have government by case study--carefully planned, efficient, well-managed and honest. Common Cause would be happy.

Gephardt is becoming the insurgent in the 1988 Democratic race, the role Hart played against Walter F. Mondale in 1984 and hoped to repeat against Cuomo in 1988. That is because of his position on foreign trade. The so-called Gephardt Amendment, which passed the House of Representatives last month, mandates tough sanctions against countries that have large trade surpluses with the United States and are found to engage in unfair trading practices. The amendment has been denounced by the Reagan Administration, business leaders, trade specialists, foreign-policy experts, respected economists, diplomats, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. In other words, by the entire national Establishment.

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