Ronald Brownstein in his series (front page, July 2-4) has furnished us with a thorough analysis of the right issues in the wrong campaign. Conventional wisdom assumes the Democrats are seriously trying to run as a party for President in 1992. They are not. The Democrats instead will focus most of their national resources on defending their 57-43 majority in the Senate.
To be sure, a sacrificial lamb will be served up, such as Gov. Bill Clinton from Arkansas (a small state with only eight electoral votes) or Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa (a lead state, yet only seven electoral votes). But each of the serious challengers for 1996--Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee or Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia--will invent a magnanimous way to slink away from the fray.
The Senate is the battleground for 1992, not the presidency. The Democrats have 20 senators up for reelection in 1992 versus 15 for the Republicans--very similar to the circumstances that cost the Republicans the Senate in 1986. In fact, many of these Senate Democrats are the same rookies who won narrowly in 1986 and now find themselves on the wrong side of a victorious Desert Storm. Add to that roll call some vulnerable veterans who also voted against the American forces. "Cruise missile" campaign ads are now programmed for these vulnerable targets.
But the biggest factor hamstringing the Democrats' presidential bid will not be the issues, but a lack of money. Hollywood liberals normally fork over nearly one-fourth of the money for the presidential campaign, but in 1992 California will be consumed by two Senate campaigns and 52 congressional races, plus 100 legislative battles. The Democrats cannot afford to run for President and defend the Senate.
Ironically, the lack of a strong candidate at the top of the ticket will reduce voter turnout and may cost Democrats the Senate anyway, as it did in 1980: President Carter conceded the election 1 1/2 hours before polls closed out West. This time Democrats are conceding 1 1/2 years before the polls close. Crying towels all around.