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Kerrey Heats Up Tepid Democractic Race : Politics: The Nebraska senator reportedly says he plans to run for White House. Other possible candidates show signs of reaching decisions.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

As most Americans prepared for the long Labor Day weekend, activity suddenly kicked up in the listless Democratic presidential race on Friday.

Freshman Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, 48, has told intimates that he plans to enter the race, according to sources who have spoken with him. Though others close to Kerrey said the decision is subject to change, informed observers said the odds now strongly favored him joining the contest. “It looks like a go,” said a source close to Kerrey.

Kerrey, a former Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam who earlier served one term as Nebraska’s governor, has often been touted as one of the party’s rising stars. He resolutely resisted the idea of entering the 1992 contest until last weekend. But in an interview with the Lincoln Journal-Star, Kerrey said he was reconsidering in the wake of recent decisions by Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. and West Virginia Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV to pass on the contest.

Another adviser said Kerrey--who is scheduled to visit San Francisco for a meeting with Democratic activists on Wednesday--is likely to make “some kind of (final) decision in the next week or so.”

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As a sharp critic of President Bush on domestic and foreign policy--including the use of force in the Persian Gulf--Kerrey has appeal to liberals, but he has also proven his ability to win votes in conservative Nebraska. “Kerrey combines a lot of different elements that make for a very attractive candidate,” said Democratic strategist William Carrick.

In other developments:

* Former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., who had been expected to seek a U.S. Senate seat, now seems virtually certain to run for the presidency and is expected to announce the formation of an exploratory committee for the race next week.

* In New Hampshire, Mary Chambers, the Democratic minority leader in the state House of Representatives and a prominent supporter of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, told a reporter that she is planning a Harkin rally for Sept. 16, the day after the senator is expected to announce his candidacy in Winterset, Iowa. Chambers said Harkin told her in July that he intended to run.

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* New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo--the party’s most renowned non-candidate--seemingly took pains Friday to ensure his name was not overlooked. Cuomo released a letter he had sent to House Speaker Thomas S. Foley and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell urging the Congress to enact “an economic growth plan"--including an investment tax credit and aid to distressed states and cities.

“I offer whatever resources you feel I can bring to this effort,” wrote Cuomo, who some party activists have lately criticized for overshadowing the potential candidates even while insisting he has no plans to seek the nomination.

Other Democrats considering the race include Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who toured New Hampshire this week, and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who this week named as treasurer of his exploratory committee Bob Farmer, the chief fund-raiser in 1988 for Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis. Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas is the only announced candidate.

Meanwhile, a group hoping to attract Ralph Nader to the race released a national survey Friday showing the consumer advocate running strongly against four of the most likely Democratic contenders.

Just over 20% of the 246 Democrats polled by the Chicago-based marketing company Market Facts Inc. from Aug. 23 to 25 said they would support Nader for the party’s presidential nomination.

Trailing most closely behind Nader in the survey were Clinton and Wilder at 9.2% and 6.6% respectively. Tsongas and Harkin ran behind at 6.4% and 4.8%. Not surprisingly, the big winner in the survey was undecided, at almost 44%.

In a second survey of 801 registered voters conducted in mid-August, Market Facts found President Bush defeating Nader in a hypothetical matchup by 58% to 28%. According to the survey, Cuomo ran no better, losing to Bush by 58% to 29%.

“This tells you that Nader has tremendous advantages at the start: He’s a figure that people respect as a leader,” said Matthew Rothschild, publisher of The Progressive magazine and co-treasurer of the Committee to Draft Ralph Nader for President. “All of the Democratic bigwigs are clamoring for Cuomo, but this data shows Nader could run as strongly against Bush as Cuomo.”

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But several Democratic professionals said Friday the results offered little indication of whether the public can actually envision a political role for Nader--who has not, in any case, indicated any interest in auditioning for one. “This tells you when you put somebody whose name people know against four people whose names they don’t know, 20% say they will vote for the person they do know,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.


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