Rep. Schroeder Tests Presidential Waters : Congresswoman in Iowa to Study Entry Into Democratic Race

Times Staff Writer

For Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), the question Friday was: “Can I jump-start a presidential campaign?”

She met on Friday with top Iowa Democratic Party officials, teachers and journalists in a one-day swing that she said would be followed by a trip to New Hampshire on Monday to further explore her presidential prospects.

Although she is aware that she is late in testing the Iowa political waters, the 46-year-old congresswoman said she will not make a decision on entering the race until later this summer. She is the first woman to seriously explore the possibility of running for President in 1988. If she does run, she will join seven male candidates for the Democratic nomination.


“It’s frightening,” Schroeder said. “It’s like walking into the stadium and saying, ‘Come here, lions.’ ”

Headed Hart Campaign

But the one-time co-chairman of Gary Hart’s now-defunct presidential campaign said also that she was “angry” and “frustrated” about Reagan Administration policies.

“The next President is going to be sworn in in 1989. That’s just 11 years from the 21st Century. All of the things that we have done in the 20th Century that we’re not proud of haven’t been solved.

“We will turn over to the next century an incredible nuclear arsenal, which this country brought to the planet,” said Schroeder, a top-ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“There’s the environment, ozone, the trade area. Politically, we haven’t dealt with the American family in a realistic way. We’ve dealt with it in a Norman Rockwell-painting way.”

Among Democratic members of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, such pronouncements were met with interest. But her lack of a strong campaign organization and her determination to mull over her prospects for several months troubled some Democratic leaders here. Others wondered how Schroeder’s stand on issues differed from those of candidates already in the race.

Memo From Husband

Schroeder said it was a 25th anniversary “memorandum” from her husband, Jim, last week that clinched her decision to explore the possibility of a candidacy.

Schroeder vowed she would incur no campaign debt and promised, if she entered the race, to run history’s first “pay-as-you-go” campaign: “No dough, no go.”

She said she probably would have to accumulate $10 million to make her candidacy feasible, but she expressed no doubts that she could raise it.

So far, Schroeder has hired no pollsters, no political consultants, no advance people. She traveled to Iowa by herself, coach class, and was escorted by a high school classmate in a station wagon.

Schroeder, who was born in Oregon, is a 1958 graduate of Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School. Her parents lived in Des Moines until moving to Denver in 1968. Iowa holds the nation’s first test of Democratic presidential candidates next Feb. 8, followed by the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

AIDS Testing

When the subject of mandatory drug and AIDS testing came up, Schroeder said, “This Administration has gone off the charts. Whenever there is a problem, they give a mandatory test. I’d like to give a mandatory constitutional test to everybody in the White House. If you don’t pass, you’re out.”

Of what is sometimes seen as her flip way with words, Schroeder said: “To be perfectly candid, that is how I survived. You have to be able to laugh.”

Throughout the day, Schroeder dismissed suggestions that her gender might be a liability in running for President.

“I think America is man enough to vote for a woman,” she said, adding: “I don’t want any woman to vote for me because I’m a woman, or any man to vote against me because I’m a woman. I really want people to look at the issues, and what I am saying.”

Called by Ferraro

Schroeder said former Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1984, had called her late in the week to offer her encouragement. “Ferraro didn’t take the ticket down,” Schroeder said. “I think she really helped (it).”

So far, five major candidates have formally announced for the Democratic nomination--Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. are expected to add their names to the list.