Democrats quietly plot party comeback

A Democratic Party plan for staging a comeback is taking shape. It contains the following elements, say key national Democratic leaders: 1. The party is seeking to regain the initiative by establishing some movement toward internal unity.

The selection of Charles Manatt as national chairman provides an experienced politician who already is moving fast to pull the party together.

"Chuck comes into the job as a fresh face and without any political baggage," one key Democrat says. "He's providing the motion that the party must have first before it can go forward -- the inward movement involved in bringing together the Democratic factions that have been fighting each other instead of the battling Republicans."

Robert Strauss also has agreed to work to help heal differences within the party. although tied closely to former President Carter, Mr. Strauss came out of the election without cutting his ties with other Democratic leaders, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

One of the first tasks for Strauss will be to head a big congressional fund-raising dinner here in June.

2. The party will seek through a National Policy Council to find a winning theme for the 1980s.

A newly formed study group, the Center for a Democratic Policy, will be exploring directions for the party.

Says one national Democratic leader of the need for an alternative to the conservative Republican approach:

"We can't stand around and wait for Reagan to fail. We must have new positions for the '80s. The old FDR pro granew won't be enough. We must be in step with America. And we simply can't echo the Republicans."

3. The party will reactivate the National Advisory Council as a device to strengthen the Democratic thrust.

Included on the council will be five leaders from the House and five leaders from the Senate, together with five governors and five mayors. Mr. Carter, Senator Kennedy, and former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale also will serve on the council.

4. The party is seeking to move forward in an orderly, well-planned way.

"We must not overreact," one Democratic leader says. "Instead, we must rebuild well from the bottom up and not try to accomplish too much too quickly."

Another key Democrat puts it this way: "Sure, we're down. But this could change quickly.

"I'm reminded of how the Republicans looked after [Barry] Goldwater, how the Democrats looked after [George] McGovern, and how the Republicans looked after Watergate.

"We can bounce back in a short while," he added. "Remember, too, that the Democrats still control a majority of state legislatures and local offices -- along with the governors and the House. We aren't that far down."

Other important Democrats are counciling party leaders to be cautious about talking too much right now.

"Party leaders should keep quiet," one Democrat says, "and wait and see what happens to the economy. If the economy gets better, nothing that is said will damage Reagan. But the words, of themselves, might damage the Democrats. however, if the economy slips, then the Democrats will gain, no matter what words have been uttered.

"Furthermore," he said, "the Democrats stand to lose a lot by talking too much. They could easily offend their own conservative if there is a lot of liberal talk. And conservative talk is simply going to irritate a lot of Democratic liberals. So why not just be quiet for a little while?"

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