Cranston warms up for the political run of his career

Sen. Alan Cranston keeps in superb physical shape. He sprints daily and, at 68, he may well be one of the nation's speediest senior citizens.

And now this veteran Washington lawmaker is clearly on the verge of his biggest race - for the presidency.

The California Democrat, talking about his political aspirations over a breakfast with reporters, says he thinks he is positioned precisely right for a victory two years from now.

The Cranston exchange with reporters follows:

One of the main reasons we are here this morning, senator, is to get your thinking about your possible presidential candidacy. Are you getting any closer to an open declaration?

I don't think anybody has formally declared his candidacy yet. I have not and am not going to do so this morning.

We wouldn't mind if you did. You know, when that great reporter Peter Lisagor was sitting around our table, he used to love to push that question with potential candidates. Once he asked Hubert Humphrey if he were ''salivating'' when he thought about running. Humphrey acknowledged that he was - and it was worth a headline. Are you salivating, senator?

I intend to announce a decision early next year, in late January or early February. I would be astounded if I did not proceed to run all-out because I am very encouraged by the developing situation, by the response to me in the 37 states I have visited - by many other factors I'll get into. And by the clear fact that the race for the Democratic nomination is wide open.

Does [Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy's dropping out change your views on running in any way?

It makes it more wide open. I had been very encouraged about running before he made that decision. And I am simply a bit more encouraged now. I think his dropping out moves all of us up. Some of us move up, perhaps, more than others. I think that perhaps (former Vice-President Walter) Mondale and I benefit the most, but his is a double-edged sword. He became the front-runner, but I am not sure that is a great benefit at this stage in the game. I'd like to be the front-runner at a more appropriate time.

Ideologically and philosophically don't you come closer to Kennedy than any of the other potential candidates?

Well, Kennedy and I by no means have identical voting records. We do share views on some key issues such as the threat of nuclear war - the nuclear freeze, the issue he was focusing upon. So while there are differences and I am in no way asserting I am the natural heir to the liberal support he had, I do think I will pick up much of the support of the groups that he appealed to and I appeal to.

Some people felt that one of the problems Kennedy would have was that he seemed to be locked into the liberal position. There are some people who think that you, too, are locked into that point of view. Is this so?

I do not see myself locked into any particular image in the philosophical spectrum. Kennedy had a clear image across the nation. Mondale has a clear image across the nation. I do not. I think that is one of my advantages. I am not totally unknown by any means. Gallup finds that about 50 percent of the voters know who I am. But they don't have a clear view as to whether I am a conservative or a liberal or anything in particular.

Where do you part with Kennedy, specifically?

Two examples: In the Senate I led the battle to reduce (the tax on) capital gains from 48 to 28 percent. I am an advocate of a capital-gains rollover that would have a further effect on freeing up money for innovative, small-business-type investments to help the economy. This has given me a lot of support in the investment community in America. Kennedy has been on the opposite side, basically, on that issue.

On the oil depletion allowance I have supported the independents, not the huge majors. I worked with Russell Long and others to maintain opportunities for independent oil people to retain the incentives to exploration and production.

I differ from all of the other potential Democratic candidates on that issue, specifically from Kennedy.

But where do you really think you have made a difference as a senator?

One issue was the Panama Canal treaty. . . . If I had not done one certain thing (behind the scenes) it would not have been passed. . . . I think I have also made a difference, although it has not paid off yet, in arms control.

Have you made a difference in the field of domestic legislation?

I've done many different things, none of them overwhelmingly publicized. Perhaps the area where I've done more to help many, many people is in veterans affairs. . . .

In the conservation and environment area, probably the most long-lasting side of what I have accomplished would be many, many wilderness areas and parks in California and elsewhere that I have helped get through the Congress.

Where do you place yourself in the political spectrum - a liberal?

I do like the label ''progressive.'' I would accept that label. I don't like the label ''liberal'' since I read George Bernard Shaw's definition of a liberal as someone with both feet firmly implanted in midair. I don't think ''liberal'' is particularly helpful politically.

''Radical'' obviously is not helpful. I don't know that ''conservative'' is helpful either. And I wouldn't call myself a conservative. Progressive, to me, means being creative about approaches to our problems.

What do you see in the race ahead?

I don't see much happening until you get to the primaries. And then comes the sorting out. And I view it this way: I think there are two races going on. One is the first tier, and I place Mondale and Glenn in that first tier. And they will have a contest. One or another will beat the other after six or seven primaries.

The second tier is the rest of us. Myself, (former Florida Gov. Reubin) Askew , (South Carolina's Sen. Ernest F.) Hollings, (Colorado's Sen. Gary) Hart, and whoever else may enter the race. We will have a contest. One will emerge from those early primaries. And then you will have a playoff between the winner of the two tiers. Mondale or Glenn against the winner of our group - which I hope and expect to be.

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