Democrats' Ron Brown: Skipper of the Titanic?

Article excerpt

THE message is coming through clear and strong: It's time for the Democrats to find another presidential candidate.

The problem is electability. Of the growing doubts among Democratic leaders about whether there's a winner next fall among the current field of candidates, party chairman Ron Brown puts it this way: "We're a nervous bunch. We want to win this. We want someone who can beat George Bush."

At a Monitor breakfast several days ago Mr. Brown was peppered with questions that were zeroing in on this electability problem.

For much of the session Brown, who tried hard but was unable to change the subject to what he sees as the vulnerability of President Bush, was clearly on the defensive.

The focus was on Bill Clinton and Mario Cuomo. Paul Tsongas was hardly mentioned despite his upsurge - reflecting a widely held press assumption that this is his "15 minutes" in the sun and that will be the end of it. Among Washington's political observers one hears this assessment of Mr. Tsongas: "His candidacy doesn't have legs." They could, of course, be very wrong.

Hard questioning came early on what is known now as the "Clinton problem." One reporter put it this way:

"He may be as pure as the driven snow. But if he becomes a candidate I can see those shots on TV of George and Barbara out on the beach, hand in hand, walking into the sunset.

"I saw a poll the other day that showed that 14 percent of the public would vote against a presidential candidate who they thought had had extramarital relations. That's small - but a lot in a close presidential election. So doesn't Clinton have a problem of getting elected?"

"I don't know," the beleaguered party chairman responded rather lamely. "The voters will determine that." He added that he thought Mr. Clinton was a "good communicator" and that he believed that "the process is proceeding well."

Accusations that Clinton had manipulated his Vietnam draft status - which have increased doubts about his electability - surfaced the day after the Brown breakfast.

At this point someone asked: "What of reports that Republicans have ordered hands off Clinton because if he is nominated he will be a push-over in November?"

"I think this is obvious," said Brown. "There has been evidence of Republican involvement in starting the story and spreading it. …