Washington — Democrats find themselves in a Catch-22. Six months before the Iowa presidential caucuses, the party has fielded seven candidates - all liberals, according to analysts. ``Teddy Kennedy Democrats,'' one party activist calls them.
And that creates a dilemma, analysts say.
Democratic liberals - labor unionists, blacks, feminists, government workers, and other activists - dominate the party's caucuses and primaries. To win the nomination, a candidate must appeal to these groups.
Yet conservative and moderate voters dominate the general election. To win the White House, a candidate must appeal to conservative voting blocs such as ethnic Americans, Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Southern whites, and Western independents. Liberal Democrats, selected in the primaries, usually lose.
``It's a vicious circle,'' says former ambassador Peter R. Rosenblatt, president of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority.
``There is a glut of liberals,'' says Democratic consultant Richard Pollock, who says he cannot understand why conservatives ``are not more aggressive in pushing their way into leadership of the party.''
The liberal cast of Democratic candidates for 1988 dismays some members of the party. The disappointment is widespread in the South, now that Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia has decided not to run. But it also extends to other parts of the country.
Particularly upset are ``Henry Jackson Democrats'' who, like the late senator, support a strong defense and foreign policy.
``The props are being knocked out from under all Democrats who believe strongly in these issues,'' says Mr. Rosenblatt.
The Democratic candidates, dubbed ``the seven clones'' by political analyst Richard Scammon, uniformly oppose aid to the contras in Nicaragua and have been critical of President Reagan's defense buildup.
Rosenblatt, scanning the list of contenders, observes: ``[Former Arizona Gov.] Bruce Babbitt has been all over the lot on foreign and defense policy. And [Massachusetts Gov. Michael] Dukakis sounds like a clone of [George] McGovern.''
The liberal monopoly prevails, even though four out of every five American voters consider themselves either conservative (43 percent) or moderate (36 percent). Only 21 percent were liberal, according to an ABC-TV news poll during the last presidential election.
After Mr. Reagan's conservative tide swept him to a 49-state victory in 1984, many Democrats hoped that their party would renew its courtship of middle-road voters.
Party leaders like former Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb and Senator Nunn formed the Democratic Leadership Council in hopes of nudging Democrats toward the center. Rosenblatt's CDM also stepped up its efforts.
Yet no counterpart to Henry Jackson emerged. Governor Robb declined. Nunn said no. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey refused. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio was still debt-ridden from his 1984 campaign. So the field was left to the left wing of the party.
One of the major stumbling blocks for conservative Democrats has been the Iowa caucuses.
Iowa kicks off the presidential race, but in recent years, Iowa Democrats who attend the caucuses have proven far more liberal than Democrats nationwide. This skews the party selection process. It forces candidates to adopt liberal positions that are unpopular nationally and eventually makes it harder for Democrats to win.
Thus, Keith Frederick, a consultant to Governor Babbitt, observes about the issue of contra aid:
``If you want to get votes in Iowa, you have to be against [it].''
With everyone crowding to the left, Stephen Hess, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, sees a potential ``opening to the right.''
Mr. Hess says: ``With the exception of [Sen. Paul] Simon, [the Rev. Jesse] Jackson, and [Rep. Pat] Schroeder, if she comes in, the candidates are basically pragmatists. They are not ideological.''
For instance, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri ``took very conservative positions earlier in his career, then switched to liberal ones ... as he decided to seek the presidency,'' says Hess.
With Senator Nunn out of the race, Hess believes that the five ``pragmatists'' in the contest - Babbitt, Representative Gephardt, Governor Dukakis, Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee, and Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. of Delaware - may now begin quietly inching to the right.
However, such a political metamorphism could be tricky, especially for those with on-the-record votes in Congress.
Senators Gore, Simon, and Biden, and Congressman Gephardt, for example, all opposed chemical-weapons production and contra aid, favored sanctions against South Africa, and favored textile quotas (a labor union issue). All except Gore opposed the MX missile. The senators all voted to reject school prayer.
The National Journal, which rates members of Congress on economic, social, and defense issues, showed all four congressional candidates with positions close to Senator Kennedy. His economic rating was 70-29 - that is, more liberal than other senators 70 percent of the time, more conservative 29 percent. On social issues, Kennedy was 84-15. On defense, 75-0.
Comparable ratings for the candidates:
Gephardt: Economic, 87-0. Social, 89-0. Defense, 74-25.
Biden: Economic 84-15. Social, 85-14. Defense, 75-0
Gore: Economic, 85-8. Social, 79-16. Defense, 71-25.
Simon: Economic, 85-8. Social, 78-21. Defense, 75-0.