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In Race Till Convention, He Vows : Simon Makes Last Stand for Old-Time Liberalism

February 21, 1988|KEITH LOVE | Times Political Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — Here in the homeland of Hubert H. Humphrey, Democratic presidential candidate Paul Simon is beginning a last stand for old-fashioned liberalism.

It is, in the words of his spokesman, "a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party."

Simon's decision Friday--reversing an earlier statement--to fight on for his party's nomination even if he does not win here or in South Dakota on Tuesday is more than a case of one man's ego getting the best of his judgment.

It is part of a battle that has been going on in the Democratic Party since Minnesota's Walter F. Mondale--like Simon, a Humphrey protege--was trounced by President Reagan in 1984.

That loss, in which the Democrats carried only Minnesota, was supposed to signal the end of the party's traditional liberalism, a cause that Humphrey fought for as senator and presidential candidate before he died of cancer 10 years ago.

Right after the 1984 election, a group of younger Democrats, including 1988 candidates Richard A. Gephardt and Albert Gore Jr., started the Democratic Leadership Council.

It became a policy-making and publicity-generating vehicle to move the party away from its traditional embrace of dovishness and social programs in hopes that it could start winning presidential elections after losing four of the last five.

Three other Democrats then seeking the presidency, Gary Hart, Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, did not join the DLC but fashioned their own paths away from program-heavy liberalism by appealing to the more pragmatic and technology-oriented interests of younger voters.

Only the Rev. Jesse Jackson continued in the Humphrey tradition.

"So, what the old-fashioned liberals saw as they looked at the Democratic presidential race was Jesse Jackson and a bunch of Yuppies," said Times political analyst William Schneider.

"What they wanted was Mario Cuomo to get in," Schneider said. "When he didn't, their man became Paul Simon. Now he is their last hope."

That is what drives Simon on in the race despite second- and third-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire that many professionals expected to end his candidacy.

Like a New Man

In St. Cloud, Minn., Thursday, Simon was like a new man just one day after stating that he had to win something next week or quit.

Suddenly he was talking about settling in for a long war for delegates around the country and about the possibility that he could be a broker at the Democratic convention this summer in Atlanta.

"People who are fund-raisers and others are suddenly calling me and saying, 'You have got to stay in this race.'

"I think there is really a recognition by a lot of people that what we are really talking about is what direction the Democratic Party is going to go," Simon said.

"This is a marathon," he said Friday in Minneapolis, "and I'm in this all the way to Atlanta."

Fittingly, he said, one person who urged him to go on was a woman on Social Security.

"Just this morning in St. Louis, a woman told me she got a call from a woman who collects $402 in Social Security and she said: 'Paul Simon is the only one who is going to be fighting for us. I can't afford much, but you tell him I'll do what I can; tell him he has to stay in this race.' "

Givers Call In

That was good enough for Simon, especially with liberal givers also calling and pledging to find him the money to keep going.

His national chairman, Charles T. Manatt, said Thursday, "This has been a very good week in fund-raising. The traditional Democrats are coming through.

"We got so many envelopes in the mail one day we could not open them all. The money will be there for Paul for at least a while if he watches the expenditures carefully."

Simon spokesman Terry Michael said the campaign will scale back and concentrate on flying Simon to airport news conferences and selected events so that he can make his pitch for the party's old-time values.

Simon's candidacy is thus rapidly becoming a mission.

Some Obvious Questions

But it is a mission that even some of his own advisers question in private and one that raises some obvious questions.

Why can't the cause for old-fashioned liberalism be taken forward now by Jackson, who is expected to have many more delegates than Simon after the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses on March 8?

Also, what about Dukakis? He scored very well with liberals in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He has more delegates than Simon, much more money to wage a national campaign and is even favored to whip Simon in Minnesota.

And then there is Gephardt. Although the Missouri congressman was a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council and cast some conservative votes in the House, he has become a major contender for his party's nomination by moving to the left and proclaiming himself a fighter for working men and women.

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