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Broken Brokered Dreams

By Lori E. Smith

JERRY BROWN isn't the only one who has lost faith in the system.

Three days after the New York primary, many democratic politicians still believe that only a brokered convention will save the party's chances in November.

Some are waiting for the next high heel to drop on Bill Clinton's campaign. Some point to low voter turnout and the success of non candidate Paul E. Tsongas this week as proof of a dissatisfied electorate. Others see a compromise candidate as the only way to weaken the divisions among Democrats that inevitably help the Republican party. Unhappy with Clinton, annoyed at Brown--what's a superdelegate to do?

Never mind that after Tuesday's primary, Clinton has almost 60 percent of the delegates needed for the nomination. Never mind that broad hints dropped all through the campaign have yet to produce an alternative candidate. Never mind that yesterday, even Tsongas, who received 29 percent of the New York vote without campaigning, rejected calls to reenter the race.

Never mind all the good reasons to sigh with resignation and begin helping nominee-apparent Clinton to run for president. These panicked Democrats are still trying to keep enough superdelegates uncommitted until the convention so that they can manipulate some votes, give a few good sound bites, wave their magic wands and, in a puff of smoke from their smoke-filled rooms, produce a safe middle-of-the-road candidate--Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, for example.

ONE WORRIED politician, Rep. Don Edwards of California, lost no time. The day after the primary he called 17 other uncommitted representative into his office and urged them to stay that way.

Meanwhile, reports in The New York Times yesterday suggested that the Clinton campaign, aided by Democratic National Committee Chair Ronald H. Brown, has begun actively wooing uncommitted superdelegates. (Superdelegates, by the way, are the 600 or so party and elected officials who automatically become delegates and who can remain uncommitted until the convention.)

Enthusiasm for a brokered convention was apparent even before the primary. Some especially cynical New York lawmakers suggested voting for Brown as a way to embarrass Clinton and force the race to stay wide open until the convention. It was widely predicted that a sizable delegate count for brown would damage clinton enough to make a convention-drafted candidate a viable possibility.

And while Clinton garnered enough support in New York to ward off any direct assaults to his credibility one exit poll showed that 66 percent of New York Democratic voters were dissatisfied with the current choices. To interpret that as a mandate for anachronistic power brokers to produce the Teflon candidate, however, is a serious misreading of voter sentiment.

IT SHOULD come as no shock that voters, in New York as elsewhere, are an unhappy lot. The primary campaign there was distinguished by the kind of media feeding frenzy that makes candidates recognizable only by their blood. The candidates themselves have become depressingly familiar to the electorate. The desire for something new and different isn't surprising.

The truth, however, is that no white knight is about to come save the Democratic party. And the public is unlikely to be enthusiastic about anyone who comes riding up on a steed this last in the game. Americans may have mixed feelings about charisma, but they routinely dismiss people who don't stick it out and fight. Clinton is admired for his staying power, if for noting else.

A drafted candidate would face the perception that he (and it would be a he) sat and watched while others did all the work. We have enough Monday-morning quarterbacks.

And anyone who thinks the voters are just waiting for a candidate hand-picked by the Democratic congressional elite hasn't pad much attention to voter response to an otherwise tame scandal in the House bank. With congressional prestige at an all-time low, for these members of Congress of to say they are better suited to pick a popular candidate than voters is inane. As Bentsen himself might say, "That dawg won't hunt."

THIS fascination with some mythical super-candidate also ignores the fundamental reality of presidential campaigns. It is a brutal process, exposing candidates to intense scrutiny of everything they ever said, did or thought. A new candidate will face that no less than Clinton has, but will he face it with more at stake.

One of the biggest fallacies in the drive for a brokered convention is the idea that any untried candidate is better than one who is battle weary. The perfect candidate today may look like a public relations disaster tomorrow.

When Thomas S. Foley became speaker of the house, a New Yorker profile referred to him as "the best President who would never run." Few would still agree with that assessment.

The New York primary was the last serious test of Clinton's legitimacy. Like it or not, he passed. Failing any major catastrophe in the next three months, the governor from Arkansas will be the 1992 Democratic nominee. It is long past time for the doubters and grumblers to deal with it.

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