Washington — Patricia Schroeder - like other women before her - decided the road to the White House was too costly to climb. The congresswoman from Colorado, who called off her presidential efforts yesterday, was poised to wage the most credible contest in history by a woman for the Oval Office.
But in an emotional talk with her supporters in Denver, Mrs. Schroeder said: ``I could not figure out how to run.''
Schroeder, dean of the 25 women in the House of Representatives, could have tapped into a major source of strength: millions of progressive women looking for a political champion. Altogether, women constitute 53 percent of the nation's voters.
Yet Schroeder also had to weigh the opinions of the experts. Her potential entry into the race was being met with widespread skepticism.
In Washington, for example, Horace Busby, a political veteran who served in the Johnson White House, said Schroeder's chances of winning were ``nil.''
Stephen Hess, an analyst with the Brookings Institution, said Schroeder had the credentials to run, but she also had ideological problems.
``She would have fitted in to the left of the Democratic spectrum, somewhere between [the Rev.] Jesse Jackson and [Sen.] Paul Simon. And on this basis, she became a less attractive candidate to those Democrats who want to win in November,'' said Mr. Hess.
On the other hand, experts said Schroeder had some important things on her side, including the tide of history.
America is ready to accept a qualified woman as president, Hess said. Further, Schroeder has ``spark and sparkle'' that would have enlivened an otherwise ``bland'' race for the Democratic nomination, Hess said.
Schroeder's decision leaves the Democratic race wide open - just where it has been for much of the past three years.
A number of analysts said Monday that the race still has no front-runner and no clear form. There are no sharp issues to divide the candidates. None has shown the ability to excite crowds except, perhaps, Mr. Jackson. The race, said one expert, is colorless and boring.
Schroeder might have changed that. She would have entered the race as a liberal and a champion of women's rights, but also a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
Schroeder can talk as readily about military weapons as she can about the Equal Rights Amendment. She also serves on the House Judiciary Committee.
On Capitol Hill, she is known for her wit, her originality, and her smarts. In 1983, she coined the phrase ``Teflon-coated president'' to describe President Reagan's ability to resist political damage. In a crowd-pleasing line, she often pronounces defense contractors the ``welfare queens of the '80s.'' And she once said the Reagan White House believes ``arms control is a form of deodorant.''
Schroeder also has shown the ability to raise large amounts of money. An earlier direct-mail effort to test her appeal raised $4 for every $1 in costs - a phenomenal return by fund-raising standards.
However, the Denver Post has reported that Schroeder had raised only half of the $2 million she once said she needed to run a credible campaign.
The great unknown about Schroeder was her appeal beyond the Denver city limits where she has her political base. A consultant from Colorado says it is doubtful that Schroeder could win a statewide race there. Her liberalism goes against the grain of Western independence, the consultant suggests.
In the talk with her supporters, Schroeder said:
``I learned a lot about America and I learned a lot about Pat Schroeder [this summer]. That's why I will not be a candidate for president. I could not figure out how to run.''
At this point, she broke into tears. After a few moments, she continued: ``There must be a way, but I haven't figured it out yet. I could not bear to turn every human contact into a photo opportunity.''
Schroeder's decision leaves six major Democratic candidates in the field.
Political consultant Keith Frederick says no one seems able to break out of the pack and move into a substantial lead. He thinks it will be at least Christmas before the race in Iowa or other early states begins to show signs of moving strongly in the direction of one or two of the candidates.