Everyone listens to Bob Strauss

WHEN Speaker Jim Wright and Secretary of State George Shultz put an end to their feud over Mr. Wright's intervention in Central American diplomacy, it was that lovable pol, Robert Strauss, who brought them together. Mr. Strauss had been involved from the beginning in what he calls ``Wright's deal with the President to try to get the White House moving'' toward achieving peace in Nicaragua. ``It was a carefully done deal,'' Strauss told reporters the other morning. ``I was a part of it and know all about it. [White House chief of staff] Howard Baker was deeply involved.''

Strauss has become a political statesman. There are only a few of this genre in Washington these days. Clark Clifford is another. No other names come quickly to mind.

Strauss has his finger in just about everything. He and Attorney General Edwin Meese were talking together about the failed Supreme Court nomination of Douglas Ginsburg the other day. Mr. Meese and Howard Baker are good friends and frequently confer. Indeed, Strauss urged Mr. Baker to take the chief-of-staff job, feeling that President Reagan needed to have the Tennessean's political astuteness at his elbow.

True, it was under a Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, that Strauss made his mark as a key official: in trade, the domestic economy, foreign affairs. Before that he had been the longtime chairman of the Democratic National Committee. But somehow Republican as well as Democratic leaders turn to Strauss for advice. They respect him - find him fair. And wise.

Strauss is also one of the very few people in Washington who is no longer in a highly visible public office or political position but can still draw a big crowd of reporters. Part of Bob Strauss's appeal is that he continually keeps in touch with all the movers and shakers.

``I was talking to Mario last week,'' Strauss said about New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in reply to a question from a reporter at a breakfast session. ``And he gave me every indication that he is not considering getting into the race one bit. I think we now are looking at the field of Democratic candidates. I don't see anyone else getting in.''

``Yes,'' said Strauss to another question, ``I would prefer that we had a nationally known candidate.'' But, he added, after a winner began to emerge in the primaries, ``he would look a lot bigger.''

If a deadlock occurred at the convention, it would be likely that the delegates would turn to the New York governor: ``Cuomo was at the last convention. He made that speech. He is a national figure.'' He didn't see either Sen. Sam Nunn or Sen. Bill Bradley being tapped under deadlock circumstances. ``They are not really known beyond their regions - their states,'' he said.

Strauss finds something ``missing'' in the campaign: ``I don't think we have anyone running for the presidency on either side who has been able to describe where this nation is and to articulate a vision of the future of where he perceives this nation should go. No one has come up with such a vision and defined a strategy for us to get there.'' He paused, then continued:

``Now the first candidate on the Democratic side that does that will, in my judgment, become the nominee of the party.''

Strauss's candidate assessment:

Paul Simon has made ``far more progress than anyone expected'' and is poised ``to do very well'' in Iowa, Strauss says. ``Paul's problem will be what to do after Iowa: How can he go through the South and still stay alive?''

Of Sen. Albert Gore: ``I think he is making progress in the South - more than many people thought he would, because of his age and late entry. He's going over well with the Southern pols. But his problem is how can he do well in the South and still do well in Iowa and New Hampshire?''

Of Gov. Michael Dukakis and Rep. Richard Gephardt: ``I think that Dukakis and Gephardt understand the process better and probably have better organizations than the other two. We're not hearing too much about Dukakis these days. But he still has a lot going for him. I hear, for example, that down in south Texas, among the minorities there, he could do very well. And let Gephardt win a primary and he's going to look very big.''

Of Gov. Bruce Babbitt: ``I think that Babbitt has to pull off a rather substantial upset in Iowa - and he has a good organization and it is possible. I might add that he is saying more interesting things than anyone else on either the Republican or Democratic side. But he isn't being heard very much.''

Of the Rev. Jesse Jackson: ``Well, I don't think Jackson is going to be our nominee. End of paragraph.''

Can the Democrats win the presidency next year? ``We don't have one or more voices telling where our party ought to go or providing any vision for America. We have failed in that respect. And until we do that, I don't think the American people will turn to us.''

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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