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Democrats Try to Forge Unity as They Seek Southern Support

June 23, 1987|ROBERT SHOGAN | Times Political Writer

ATLANTA — Some people say the Democratic Party has a conservative wing and a liberal wing, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told a group of party leaders and presidential candidates meeting here Monday to plan for next year's Super Tuesday primary in the South. But Jackson pointed out: "It takes two wings to fly."

Jackson's comments reflected the concern widely shared by party activists and candidates here over forging and maintaining the unity they will need to regain the White House.

The talk of harmony was made more credible by the presence of Jackson, whose views frequently differ from those of the meeting's sponsor, the Democratic Leadership Council. The council was established in 1985 by elected officials mainly from the South and West to move the party to the center. Meanwhile, Jackson has continued to build his Rainbow Coalition, which binds together minorities and other interest groups whose influence on the party the DLC has been trying to curb.

Courting Support

Nevertheless, the DLC, unwilling to risk affronting Jackson and his supporters, invited him along with the other Democratic contenders to court support from among about 400 party and elected officials, most of them from the 14 Southern states that next March 8 will select about one-third of all the Democratic National Convention delegates.

Jackson, eager to portray himself as belonging to the Democratic mainstream, sounded the harmony theme in clear tones.

More important than Super Tuesday is winning "the Super Bowl" against the Republicans in November, 1988, he said. During a panel discussion that included two of his rivals, Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., Jackson said the key question for Democrats was not whether they headed to the left or right but whether they went "forward or backward."

Unity Stressed

Biden promised to observe a Democratic version of the "11th Commandment"--the Republican dictum not to speak ill of other Republicans. And Gore, stressing the need for unity, noted that in recent years Democrats have managed to win the presidency only in "squeaker" elections, adding: "In order to win a Democratic squeaker, we are going to have to have unity."

But the overall thrust for intraparty harmony was marred somewhat by a complaint from Gore published Sunday in the Atlanta Constitution about tactics being used by a DLC leader, whom the paper identified as the group's chairman, former Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb.

Gore reportedly accused Robb of trying to "subvert" the Super Tuesday primary process by encouraging "favorite son" candidacies. Favorite son candidates generally run only in their own states, with the goal of gaining control of that state's delegation to the national convention.

'Create Leverage'

Gore, who is the only native Southerner apart from Jackson in the race, later said that he believed the purpose was to "create leverage for certain items" on the DLC policy agenda.

Any such effort would of course cut into Gore's hopes of exploiting his own status as a Southerner in the March 8 vote. Beyond that, Gore said he objected "because we created Super Tuesday to increase the role of grass-roots voters in the South, not the role of power brokers."

In his complaint, Gore did not identify Robb by name, but later he did not deny that Robb was the DLC leader he meant. In an interview, Robb acknowledged that he had broached the idea of favorite son candidacies in a speech to the Texas Legislature last March, saying it is one way to "heighten interest and broaden the debate on Super Tuesday."

But Robb said he had not actively pursued the idea since, although he said, "I may have indicated" that it was a possibility if none of the Democratic candidates could stir widespread interest among Southern voters.

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