Memo to Governor Cuomo

YOU seem to be running for president in the ``traditional'' fashion, governor. Your disclaimers of this mirror your plans. You intend to seek reelection next year and you are not letting your political thinking drift beyond that point. New York voters might not keep you in office if told you are going to spend a lot of your time seeking the presidency. But you went awfully far, governor, in your comments to reporters the other morning in asserting your disinterest in the presidency. It was pro forma, of course, when you said that when you run for governor ``as a practical matter, you're out of this picture.'' But you shut the door a bit more firmly than you intended in saying at one point: ``I don't think that I have what it takes. I don't think I have the persona'' to be elected president.

Such humility is refreshing. Your views on just about everything are refreshing, in great part because you enjoy entertaining new ideas and have the ability to articulate them well.

But don't put yourself down too much and too often. You are, admit it or not, the fairest light now in the Democratic political firmament. Polls say this. So did the crowd of reporters who turned out for that session with you. Not too long before about half that number showed up to meet with Sen. Gary Hart. Senator Hart seems to be already in the race for '88. Many reporters regard him as the leading active contender. But he may have had his moment. Yours seems to be at hand -- if you grasp the opportunity.

Your forensic powers -- shown in your Democratic National Convention keynote address -- have made you known. As New York governor, you are well positioned for a run at the presidency.

As you well know, no one can be drafted for the presidential nomination anymore. For an aspirant there can be no dragging of feet. If you don't start working the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary years in advance of those contests, you won't win there -- and you won't get the nomination. Momentum needs an early start. And that means early involvement in the race long before you or any other candidate really wants to be putting together a campaign.

The day before you sat down with these reporters, governor, two of the nation's brightest and most able politicians, Robert Strauss and Melvin Laird, proposed a different primary setup: regional primaries, or even a national primary. While this approach could conceivably be a very good thing, it would not shorten the race. Candidates would still have to jump into the campaign years in advance, possibly earlier than now, to assemble regional or national political organizations.

Any way you look at it, governor, if you have the slightest intention of running for president (and those who know you well say that you do), you are going to have to go for it, even while making sure that you are doing your job in New York. This means putting together an expert national campaign staff, making major speeches around the United States, traveling some abroad -- not to mention making visits to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, don't be too self-effacing, too downputting. You went on to say, in citing your disqualifications: ``I don't have the record. I don't think I have it.'' Sure, Adlai Stevenson could say things like that. But his was a different era.

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

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