Tsongas, Clinton Results Indicate Historic Shift in Democratic Party

Article excerpt

IN New Hampshire this week, the Democratic Party turned right in its quest to pick a president.

Even if the Democrat that emerges ultimately loses next fall, many party leaders and strategists say the Democrats have turned a historic corner, away from decades of liberalism.

"This was Waterloo for traditional Democrats," says William Galston, a policy theorist, former issues director for the 1984 Walter Mondale campaign, and University of Maryland professor.

"What we're seeing at last is the birth of a Democratic Party that can be competitive in general elections," says Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and a 1988 Democratic presidential candidate.

"It brought the party to the middle," says Stuart Eizenstat, a lawyer and former domestic policy adviser to President Carter.

New Hampshire split all its delegates between the two candidates with the most conservative economic message, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the two major candidates advocating forceful government intervention on economic problems, could not have finished second even by pooling their vote totals.

The gist of the new Democratic message, says Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, is that economic growth matters more than redistributing wealth.

"You cannot have a liberal society that is open and tolerant for everybody with a shrinking economic pie," she says.

The dissolution of the socialist societies of Eastern Europe and the decline of left-wing parties all over the world in the past three years has offered what Ms. Kamarck calls a "reality shower" to left-wing Democrats.

With one of the most depressed local economies in the country, New Hampshire should have been primed for a classic populist, pro-government, New Deal-style message from a tough-talking Democrat. But Mr. Harkin - who fit that bill neatly - registered a poor fourth Tuesday with his liberal, pro-labor program.

"The single biggest surprise was a candidate articulating a {Great} Depression message in depression circumstances who didn't go anywhere," says Dr. Galston of Harkin's campaign.

Ron Zucker, program director at the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, which endorsed Harkin, is baffled at the candidate's failure to strike a chord. "People like me keep wandering around and saying, 'What's happened? …