Home-state backing keeps Cranston presidential bid alive

Delegates to California's Democratic party convention have given their own Sen. Alan Cranston what he needs to keep his presidential hopes alive - a solid endorsement in a non-binding ''straw vote.''

At the same time, the weekend convention here showcased seven Democratic presidential aspirants - five US senators, a former vice-president, and one US representative - for the 2,100 party delegates and alternates, and a large contingent of political reporters and commentators.

The result: California's Sen. Cranston got the ''favorite son'' endorsement he needed for national credibility; former Vice-President Walter Mondale, who was second to Cranston in the straw vote and far ahead of other contenders, saw his status as national front-runner reaffirmed; and those trying to assess the would-be presidents found out how little separates these men - in terms of their stand on the issues and their lack of that special aura, usually termed ''charisma,'' that sets a candidate apart from the field.

The appreciation and affection California Democrats have for Cranston, whom they feel has served the state and the party well for years, was obvious. They were stirred by Mr. Mondale's stem-winding oratory in a speech that could be used for accepting the nomination in 1984. And they were charmed by the irrespressible wit of Lincolnesque Congressman Morris K. Udall of Arizona.

But there was no sign of a groundswell of support in any direction - none of the ''chemistry'' produced in the past by a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, or a Ronald Reagan for that matter.

Others heard by the delegates and reporters were US Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, John Glenn of Ohio, Gary Hart of Colorado, and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina. Each articulated his views on what are becoming familiar issues: the economy, unemployment, social security, the budget deficit, civil rights, defense, trade, and the evironment.

None said anything that would separate himself from the pack. And none had anything but praise for the others - especially for Cranston.

After hearing all seven, the convention delegates cast secret ballots. With 1 ,322 of the 1,700 eligible voting, the result was: Cranston, 783 (59.2 percent); Mondale 309 (23 percent); with the others splitting the rest. In a ''second preference'' ballot, 25.9 percent picked Mondale, 13 percent Cranston, 25.2 percent others, and 35.9 percent chose not to indicate a second choice.

Another straw poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Times by telephone before and during the convention showed the following results: Cranston 40 percent, Mondale 15 percent, US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts (who has taken himself out of the race) 7 percent, Hart 5 percent, Glenn 4 percent, Udall 2 percent, Bumpers 1 percent, and Hollings 1 percent.

Cranston had to top the poll by a good margin to remain in the race. He appears to at least have a chance to go to the national convention in 1984 with a large block of California delegates. But when California selects its convention delegates, he will have to reestablish the position he demonstrated here.

How this state will chose its convention delegation, and when, has emerged as a significant matter - nationally as well as locally. A law passed by the Legislature last year provides for a portion of the state delegates to be selected in caucuses. But Democratic National Chairman Charles Manatt, formerly the chairman of the party here, said that he feels the law is flawed because its provision for equally dividing delegate seats between men and women is impractical.

Mr. Manatt also points out that there is strong pressure among California Democrats to move up the date of the June primary. They feel the state is forfeiting a major role in the determining the ultimate nominee by voting at the tail end of the primary season.

The national chairman told the Monitor he sees no reason why California should not hold its primary earlier - say, in March.

''Why shouldn't California have greater influence on the presidential nomination question?,'' he asked. ''It's the biggest state and it supported only two of the Democratic winners of the nomination since FDR.''

Manatt admits that if California advances its primary date, other states might follow. Asked if regional primaries might be better, he said it would be difficult to designate the regions and decide which one should vote first. A series of primaries by ''time zones'' might be a better format, he suggested.

The California Democrats did manage to conduct some state business. They elected LA attorney Peter Kelly to succeed Nancy Pelosi as state party chairman.

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