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Harkin Withdraws From Democratic Presidential Race : Campaign: Liberal candidate had won no primaries. He vows to remain a champion of populist causes.

March 10, 1992|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin withdrew Monday from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying he remains unshaken in his belief in populist causes and will continue to champion them "no matter what . . . for as long as I live."

His departure--announced before a cheering crowd at Gallaudet University--could weaken the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, some analysts said.

Harkin's choice of Gallaudet was symbolic; the university is geared to deaf and hearing-impaired students, and Harkin's brother is deaf. Harkin highlighted his awareness of the problems of the handicapped during his campaign, and is the chief Senate sponsor of a new civil rights law for the disabled. On Monday, he started his speech to campaign workers and students in sign language, and finished it with the sign "I love you."

Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Harkin had labeled himself as the most liberal candidate in the race only to find that the message he carried could not attract enough support to keep him competitive.

"Harkin had that (liberal) seat in this game of musical chairs," Hess said. "Democrats have decided to really go all out and win this time around. Liberalism didn't figure into that equation."

Harkin's withdrawal also virtually assures that the Democratic nominee will be someone outside the Washington Establishment. The three major candidates remaining are former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.

Already gone from the campaign are Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who entered the race as a black conservative candidate and left before competing in any of the primaries or caucuses, and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who dropped out after dismal showings in all but South Dakota.

Analysts also said that Harkin's campaign succumbed from organizational problems and an expectation, emphasized by the media, that Clinton or Tsongas would emerge as the nominee. Those factors, plus Harkin's inability to win any primaries, combined to prevent him from attracting sufficient financial support to continue the campaign, they said.

In fact, because he had failed to win at least 10% of the vote in two consecutive primaries, Harkin would have lost access to federal matching funds unless he won at least 20% of the vote in a primary soon. Federal funds match individual contributions up to $250. Harkin's victories in the Iowa and Idaho caucuses, and his apparent victory in the Minnesota caucuses, did not count for federal funding purposes.

Acknowledging his candidate's financial woes, campaign manager Tim Raftis said: "We are stopping because we just ran out of money, not because people didn't support the policies of our campaign."

He said the campaign had debts of more than $300,000 and was having trouble raising additional funds. "It's difficult to get your message through when you don't have any money," Raftis said.

Harkin's withdrawal leaves many labor organizations, such as the United Auto Workers and the International Union of Electrical Workers, without a candidate. The large industrial and manufacturing unions were poised to support his campaign in such labor-rich states as Michigan and Illinois, campaign officials said. But organized labor as a bloc had held back from endorsing a candidate to preserve its influence in the party.

Organized labor, along with racial and ethnic minority groups, has been the most loyal constituent of the progressive and liberal wings of the Democratic Party. Some observers predict that labor will now move toward Clinton.

"Although I haven't talked to many of my contacts in the unions (since Harkin's withdrawal), I have sensed in the past that there is more feeling for Clinton than for Tsongas. . . . (Unions) see Tsongas as not very friendly to their concerns," said Vic Fingerhut, a political consultant and pollster with close ties to the unions.

Brown, too, is making a pitch for the labor vote. The largest union in Las Vegas endorsed him last week--the 30,000-member Culinary Local 226--one day after he joined a picket line of striking casino workers. Union support was instrumental in helping him win the Nevada caucuses Sunday.

Harkin did not endorse any of the remaining candidates, but pledged to help the party regain the White House in November. In a paraphrase of John F. Kennedy, he said: "I will pay any price, bear any burden, learn to speak Greek, develop a Southern accent, or learn to wear a turtleneck, to ensure that a Democrat is elected President in 1992." The joke referred to Tsongas' ancestry, Clinton's political base and Brown's favorite campaign attire.

Describing Democrats as "the party of hope and opportunity for all," Harkin credited his campaign with "keeping the progressive agenda alive in our party. . . . (We) have in this primary helped shaped the vision of our party, and of others in this campaign."

Since last September, when he entered the presidential race, Harkin promised that as President he would use the resources of the federal government to create jobs, provide national health insurance and protect domestic markets from foreign competition.

Raftis said Harkin was "successful" despite his withdrawal from the race because he forced other candidates, including Clinton, to abandon their strict adherence to policies designed for middle-class Americans and to embrace programs aimed at poor and working-class people.

Vic Kamber, another Washington consultant with ties to organized labor, blamed Harkin's inability to generate enthusiasm more on his campaign's organizational woes than on the message itself.

"I'll never believe it was the message that was fatal," he said. "Given the demographics of the party and the issues people are concerned about, Harkin was the best candidate. But he couldn't get himself organized to tell his story to the voters."

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