CAMPAIGN '88 : No Democratic Fire, but Back-Room Smoke

Oops, no offense meant, you hard-working Democratic presidential candidates. So says U. S. Sen. Alan Cranston of California.

Cranston, Democratic Senate whip, is part of a group of senators, along with former Democratic Party Chairman Robert S. Strauss, who meet informally from time to time and ponder the obvious in the presidential race: None of the current Democratic candidates is catching fire.

Trouble is, such a rump group carries the distinct odor of would-be kingmaking. Whenever it is discussed--and this week it occurred at a breakfast between Cranston and Los Angeles reporters--a whole new controversy breaks out.

Just how grim are Democratic prospects if candidates cannot impress even fellow politicians? Or, are the Washington power brokers trying to move in before a single vote is cast? Or, who do these people think they are, anyway?

Cranston said he is a bit concerned that too much will be read into the group's existence.

Looking to Upcoming Results

According to the senator, the group is chiefly interested in what party leaders should do if the upcoming February and March round of primary voting fails to produce a strong front-runner. Does the party then begin a draft of someone like New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo? Or do leaders wait and confront a deadlocked convention?

"There is no signal of dissatisfaction, and no search for another candidate," Cranston said.

Just four years ago, Cranston was in the pack of presidential candidates, wrapped thick in mufflers and clomping back and forth between the early ice-belt primary and caucus states. This time, Cranston is 75 degrees warmer in Jamaica. "Enjoy Iowa," he says.

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