Seven months before the 1988 California presidential primary, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis on the Democratic side and Vice President George Bush on the Republican have the most early support among officeholders and political organizers in the San Fernando Valley.
Although many of the Valley's top political figures remain uncommitted, Dukakis appears to dominate the Democratic field here more than he does nationally, according to recent Times interviews with 40 Valley elected officials and political activists.
The Valley support for Bush is generally consistent with the national profile. The Republican eye-opener is former television evangelist Pat Robertson, who is backed by the Valley's top political cash contributor, auto dealer H. F. (Bert) Boeckmann, and a small army of volunteers.
New York Rep. Jack Kemp may also have more appeal here than he has shown nationwide.
In general, however, Valley rank-and-file interest in the campaigns is unusually low. More than half of those interviewed said they have not firmly committed themselves to any candidate.
"Clearly nobody has stepped forward to articulate the concerns and desires of the American people, and nobody has found an issue that is going to galvanize the public," said Ross B. Hopkins, former president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. and a registered Republican.
Activity in the Valley has been confined to fund-raising letters and appearances by several contenders as the candidates focus on the early primaries and caucuses elsewhere. Candidates generally visit Los Angeles at this point to seek cash contributions.
About 430,000 registered voters live in the Valley--a third of the city's 1.3 million. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the Valley, but they tend to be more independent-minded and conservative than the rest of Los Angeles.
Activists in both parties, particularly Democrats scarred by their early support of former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart or Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., emphasize that the fields will be winnowed before high-voltage stumping hits the West Coast. Several Democrats, uninspired by the current lineup, hope that charismatic New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo will enter the race.
"Most people are uncommitted," Doris (Dodo) Meyer, Mayor Tom Bradley's Valley deputy, said, referring to Democrats. This includes Meyer as well as Bradley.
"Nothing's jelled for anybody," Meyer said. "The Gary Hart thing was very harmful. It melted down a desire for people to come out early. It made everybody wary of committing themselves. We're much farther away than we have been in the past. You don't hear a lot of talk about it."
Hart Ran Well in '84
Hart, who ran well in the Valley in the 1984 Democratic primary, dropped out of the 1988 race last May after disclosure of his relationship with Donna Rice. Biden withdrew in September after revelations that he had plagiarized others' work.
The most important Valley Democrat on the fence is Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City). Berman and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) can mobilize potent fund-raising and direct-mail muscle through their Westside political organization--as they did for Hart in 1984.
"I am still in the process of sorting through a sense of which will be the best candidate and who will have the best chance in November," Berman said last week.
Among Democrats who have committed themselves, Dukakis' record as governor of Massachusetts, which has experienced an economic resurgence, has sparked some pre-primary support. Others said his emphasis on high technology and innovation could attract many former Hart supporters.
"He projects an intelligence and grasp of issues and management experience that would appeal to Valley voters," said ex-City Councilman Bob Ronka, who headed Hart's 1984 Valley campaign and remains uncommitted for 1988.
Early Dukakis backers include Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman, City Councilwoman Joy Picus and Judith Hirshberg of Encino, former chairwoman of National Women's Political Caucus of California.
State Sen. Gary K. Hart of Santa Barbara, who also backed Colorado's Hart, said he too "likes Dukakis at first glance" but is not ready to make another early endorsement.
Interest in Illinois Sen. Paul Simon has also grown in the wake of the Hart and Biden episodes, according to activists. Said County Democratic Chairman Jim Clarke, "I'm getting more and more calls on Paul Simon."
Clarke, who lives in Reseda and remains uncommitted, explained Simon's attraction: "He's scandal-free. He has set himself apart from the blue-suiters with his bow tie and funny glasses. Then, if you start listening to him, he makes a lot of sense."