A Can’t-Lose Alliance : Democrats Avoid Divisive Fight in California Race

Times Political Writer

“Whatever happens, we want to beat George Bush in November,” says Chris Hammond, California campaign manager for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the sole surviving challenger to Michael S. Dukakis for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

That harmonious note finds an echo in the camp of Dukakis, the expected winner of the nomination. “Frankly we’d like to see Rev. Jackson play a very active role in the campaign in the fall,” says Susan Estrich, national campaign manager for the Massachusetts governor.

This is not the way strategists for opposing Democrats usually talk before a California presidential primary, which this year takes place on Tuesday with 314 delegates at stake. Indeed, since 1968, every Democratic presidential contest in this state, which sends the largest delegation to the party’s national convention, has been a divisive struggle, invariably contributing to the Democrats’ losing the state in November--and in every case but 1976, losing the White House too.


It is not surprising, then, that Democrats profess to see the current amicable environment fostering a can’t-lose alliance between Jackson and Dukakis supporters. But analysts warn that such coalitions are easier to assemble in June than hold together in the fall.

Political history suggests that to fulfill their dreams of autumn triumph in California, and other key states around the country, the Democrats will have to resolve fundamental internal conflicts. Although these problems have been temporarily obscured by the euphoria of the nominating season, they are bound to be highlighted by the general election campaign and the expected attacks of Bush and his Republicans.

“I think for Dukakis it’s so far, so good,” said Gary Jacobson, a UC San Diego political scientist. But Jacobson said the ultimate result of Dukakis’ efforts will depend on the governor’s ability to collaborate with Jackson and his supporters while keeping faith with his own white liberal backers and at the same time reaching out for moderate, middle-class “swing voters.”

“Dukakis is going to have to tread a fine line to try to win votes from blue-collar workers, whites, blacks and browns,” Jacobson said.

An Excellent Start

No one denies that the Democrats will be getting off to an excellent start, particularly in contrast to past years. For this, professionals in both parties and independent analysts give much of the credit to Dukakis for his ability to dominate the contest while avoiding the stigma of being the darling of special-interest groups, which haunted Walter F. Mondale, the party’s 1984 standard-bearer.

With more than 1,814 delegates already safely in the Dukakis column, campaign manager Estrich predicts that Dukakis will win enough of the 466 delegates at stake Tuesday in the four states that vote that day--Montana, New Mexico and New Jersey, as well as California--to reach the 2,081 needed to clinch the nomination.

Lab for Testing Tactics

Dukakis strategists, meanwhile, are using the contest with Jackson as a laboratory for testing the tactics they intend to use against Bush and the Republicans in the fall. “One of the advantages of having built up a lead in delegates is that we’re able to concentrate more on November,” said Pat Forciea, communications director of the Dukakis effort in this state.

“This is one state where we won’t stop campaigning after the primary. There will definitely be staff people staying on and working through the fall.”

Last week, as the campaign neared its climax, 90 paid Dukakis staffers in 10 field offices in the Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno and San Francisco areas were directing a volunteer army of 10,000 workers, making 20,000 phone calls a night to get out the vote and to recruit precinct captains for the fight against Bush.

Laying Out Commercials

Perhaps just as important, the campaign was laying out on television commercials tens of thousands of dollars, particularly precious because the campaign is nearing the overall pre-convention spending limit imposed by federal law.

In part, the commercials are intended to make sure that the victory over Jackson forecast by public opinion polls does not slip away. “One of the secrets of our success in these primaries so far,” said John Dukakis, the candidate’s son, who is taking an active role in the California campaign, “is that we have never said: ‘We can win here and we don’t need to do anything else.’ ”

But beyond offsetting Jackson’s campaign, which is mounting an ambitious television offensive expected to cost about $700,000, the Dukakis commercials were part of what campaign strategists called a long-range “educational effort” targeted at November voters. “These ads say something about who the candidate is and they lay a foundation for us on important issues,” John Dukakis said.

Concern About Drugs

The issues emphasized in the Dukakis commercials reflect the factors that have contributed to Dukakis’ success so far in the race for his party’s nomination, and also the factors that his strategists believe will help them reach victory in November.

One commercial seeks to capitalize on intensive public concern about drugs, an issue Democrats now believe is made to order for them this fall because of the Reagan Administration’s blunders in dealing with Panama’s military leader, Manuel A. Noriega.

“I’m running for President because I want to see a real war, not a phony war against drug and alcohol dependency in this country,” Dukakis says in a campaign speech shown on the commercial. “How can we tell our children to say no to drugs when we have an Administration that paid $200,000 a year to a drug-peddling dictator from Panama?”

Bread-and-Butter Issue

Another commercial, which has been shown in every critical primary battleground state, promotes what most analysts regard as Dukakis’ bread-and-butter issue, his experience as governor, particularly his link to his state’s economic prosperity.

While images of a bustling, determined Dukakis flash across the screen, a narrator says: “In nine years as governor of Massachusetts, he wiped out huge budget deficits, cut taxes, fought corruption, helped 40,000 welfare mothers find jobs and led an economic turnaround they called a miracle. Mike Dukakis--a President for the ‘90s.”

While Dukakis’ ads here and elsewhere tend to emphasize his strengths as a practical solver of problems, a Jackson commercial created for California depicts him in less concrete but more inspiring terms. One commercial uses quotes from past Democratic chief executives to cite lofty presidential characteristics that Jackson presumably embodies.

Roosevelt and Kennedy

In the ad, Franklin D. Roosevelt is pictured as a voice quotes him: “The presidency is not merely an administrative office. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” And John F. Kennedy asserts: “Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future.”

Democratic optimism for the fall rests in part on the hope that these two approaches, one pragmatic and down-to-earth used by Dukakis, the other symbolic and emotional employed by Jackson, will complement each other and help the party reach across the electoral spectrum in November.

On the one hand, Dukakis in his straightforward and managerial manner will be appealing to the blue-collar workers and other middle-class whites who defected to Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Thus the Dukakis campaign will contact 350,000 to 400,000 households containing such swing voters in places like Orange County, the San Fernando Valley, San Bernardino and Sacramento, according to Richard Ybarra, state coordinator.

Meanwhile, Jackson, with his emotional rhetoric and compelling personality, is focusing on energizing blacks, Latinos, union members and other liberals who make up what Jackson’s state manager Hammond calls the “roots” of the Democratic Party. “Those people are not going to vote unless they are excited,” says Hammond, who contends that Jackson is providing the necessary excitement.

Strategists for the two relatively friendly rivals contend that the combined result of these efforts will be a plus for their party in competing for California’s 47 electoral votes. “This campaign has been one that will help the nominee in November,” said Jackson’s national campaign manager, Gerald F. Austin, of the primary contest in this state.

But the informal partnership that the Dukakis and Jackson campaigns appear to have been working toward in California may be hard to maintain once the presidential campaign gets under way in earnest. One reason is that presidential campaigns by their very nature tend to turn attention away from such down-to-earth problems as education and drugs, on which Democrats are relatively united and appear to enjoy an advantage over the Republicans, to broader concerns, such as economic and foreign policy, on which Democrats are less united and have been at a disadvantage in recent elections.

Negative Recollections

Moreover, Vice President Bush, who is already assured of the Republican nomination, is expected to go all out to link Dukakis with negative recollections of the Democratic past. “Bush will try to hang all sorts of things around Dukakis’ neck, like the charge that he is a classic Democratic taxer and spender who can’t be trusted to manage the economy,” said John Emerson, an erstwhile leader of Gary Hart’s abortive presidential campaign who now serves as an informal adviser to Dukakis.

Since Dukakis is still relatively unknown, the effectiveness of Bush’s attacks will largely depend, many analysts believe, on how Dukakis handles what is almost certain to be his first major challenge as party standard-bearer--dealing with Jackson.

“The key is how united an effort they (Dukakis and Jackson) will be able to keep up, where Jesse will draw the line,” said James Lare, an Occidental College political scientist.

Maintaining Credibility

As Lare and others point out, no matter how much Jackson might want to make things easy for Dukakis as Democratic nominee, he also must maintain his credibility with his own supporters. “Jackson is going to have to put some pressure on Dukakis to satisfy his own constituency,” said Lare. Indeed, John Petrocik, UCLA analyst, believes that unless Jackson is given “some kind of centerpiece image” in the Dukakis campaign he will not be able to generate the sort of high turnout from blacks that Democrats are counting on for victory.

But accommodating Jackson can cause serious problems for Dukakis, Petrocik warns. “What Jackson does, if he starts talking about South Africa, and affirmative action, and maybe even racial quotas is he antagonizes white middle-class voters in places like the San Fernando Valley, Arcadia and San Bernardino.”

In the end, Democrat Emerson believes the outcome of the election will depend on “whether Bush can define Dukakis before Dukakis can define himself.” Political writer John Balzar and staff writer Thomas B. Rosenstiel contributed to this story.


Population: 27 million (1986 est.)

Registered voters: 17,279,000 (1986). Approximately 71% Anglo, 16% Latino, 7% black, 5% Asian, 1% American Indian; 51% are Democrats, 36% are Republicans, 13% minor parties or independent. Economy: More diverse than most countries. Agriculture, aerospace and defense-related manufacturing, food processing, entertainment, tourism, construction are some of the biggest employers. Unemployment rate (May): 6.3%. Major cities: Los Angeles, 3.1 million; San Diego, 875,000; San Francisco, 712,000; San Jose, 686,000; Sacramento (capital), 275,000.


California sends the largest state delegation to both conventions--336 Democratic delegates and 175 Republican. At stake in the primary are 314 Democratic delegates and all 175 of the GOP’s. The Republican primary is a simple winner-take-all; the statewide winner gets all 175 delegates. For the Democrats, 205 delegates will be apportioned according to the vote in the 45 congressional districts; any candidate getting 15% of the vote in a congressional district is entitled to at least one delegate. An additional 109 at-large delegates will be awarded in proportion to the statewide vote. California also has 22 Democratic “super delegates.” Polls close at 8 p.m. PDT.


Population: 819,000 (1986 est.)

Registered voters: 444,000 (1986). About 95% white, 4% American Indian, 1% Latino and other; no party registration.

Economy: Agriculture (mostly livestock), mining, lumber and wood products, tourism. Unemployment rate (January): 9.5%.

Major cities: Billings, 67,000; Great Falls, 56,000; Helena (capital), 23,000. THE PRIMARY

At stake are 19 Democratic delegates. The Republican primary is technically a non-binding beauty contest, but party officials are likely to ratify the primary results when they choose Montana’s 20 GOP delegates at a state convention later in the month. For the Democrats, 13 delegates will be awarded on the basis of primary results in each of the two congressional districts, and six at-large delegates will be apportioned according to the statewide vote. Polls close at 7 p.m. PDT.


Population: 7.62 million (1986 est.)

Registered voters: 3.78 million (1986). About 82% white, 11% black, 6% Latino, 1% Asian; 34% are Democrats, 21% Republicans, 45% independent or minor parties.

Economy: Diversified manufacturing (chemicals, electrical and electronic equipment, machinery, fabricated metals); trade, financial services, tourism. Unemployment rate (May): 4.0%.

Major cities: Newark, 320,000; Jersey City, 220,000; Trenton (capital), 92,000.


At stake are 109 Democratic and 64 GOP delegates. Democrats choose 71 delegates in direct legislative-district elections in which candidates for delegate are named on the ballot along with the candidate they support. The remaining 38 (at-large) delegates will be chosen by the district-level delegates and state party leaders. Republicans also choose delegates by direct election--56 from the state’s 14 congressional districts and eight at-large. Polls close at 5 p.m. PDT.


Population: 1,479,000 (1984 est.)

Registered voters: 633,000 (1986). 60% are Democrats, 34% Republican, 6% independent or minor parties; about 57% of voting-age population is Anglo, 33% Latino, 7% American Indian, 2% black and 1% Asian.

Economy: Mining, agriculture (mostly livestock), manufacturing (electrical machinery, apparel, lumber), tourism. Unemployment rate (Jan.): 8.8%

Major cities: Albuquerque, 331,000; Santa Fe (capital), 49,000.


At stake are 24 Democratic and 26 GOP delegates. Both parties award them in proportion to the primary vote. Polls close at 6 p.m. PDT.