Political upheavals unsettle Democratic candidates

Political aftershocks are rumbling through the field of Democratic presidential candidates. Overnight, Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois has scrambled into first place in Iowa, the earliest presidential caucus state.

The former leader, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, slipped to second place and finds himself under intense criticism among Iowa Democrats.

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, one of the six remaining contenders, suddenly has come under fire for exaggerating his record as an investigative reporter in Memphis.

And amid all the upheaval, there is fresh talk that Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York is showing renewed interest in a 1988 presidential race - speculation that he denies.

The ground has been shaking under the Democrats for five months - ever since Gary Hart pulled out of the race because of charges of infidelity. That was followed by the exit of Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. on charges of plagiarism, and then came an uproar over Governor Dukakis's campaign tactics.

A new poll circulating on Monday found that 70 percent of Iowa Democrats believe Dukakis's tactics were ``unfair,'' and 19 percent of the voters there believe the governor should pull out of the race.

At the same time, the governor's unfavorable ratings in Iowa shot up to 16 percent, well above his 9 percent unfavorable rating in August. Dukakis now has the second-highest negative rating among Democratic candidates in Iowa, behind only the Rev. Jesse Jackson (24 percent).

All weekend, Dukakis criss-crossed Iowa, apologizing profusely to voters for the actions of his campaign. Dukakis's aides had spliced together a videotape showing plagiarism that helped end the campaign of Senator Biden.

From the beginning, Dukakis has denied personal knowledge of the efforts to derail Biden. But many voters say they think the whole story has not yet been told, and that perception could hurt the governor's ``Mr. Clean'' image as the campaign unfolds.

In Iowa, for example, 21 percent of the Democratic voters think Dukakis knew about the secret effort against Biden before it was disclosed. Another 20 percent say they aren't sure.

Those figures almost duplicate the findings among New Hampshire Democrats, where a poll last week by WBZ-TV and the Boston Herald found that 23 percent believed Dukakis knew what was going on, and 18 percent were not sure.

Democratic political consultant Robert Squier says the series of big blows to hit the party have been rough.

``If the election were in 1987, this would be the worst possible news. ... Fortunately for us, the election is in 1988, and we'll have sorted this out to the point where we'll have a nominee that will give us a better than even chance of winning.''

Yet there continues to be talk that a major name, such as Governor Cuomo or Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, could make a late entry.

Concerned by the confusion in his party, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York called over the weekend for an alternative strategy to find a strong candidate.

Senator Moynihan suggested that Mr. Cuomo and Senator Bradley run as favorite sons from their respective states. He also proposed a favorite-son candidate from Connecticut. That would open the way for party leaders to sit down at the convention and bargain over the best possible nominee, Moynihan suggested.

The alternative is a ``fractionizing'' of the election process that will ensure that Democrats lose in 1988, Moynihan says.

While Democrats debated, Republicans suddenly found themselves with a furor involving Vice-President George Bush.

Mr. Bush, traveling in Europe, had praised the quality of Soviet mechanics and suggested that they would be welcome in Detroit. The comment, which Bush said was meant to be humorous, touched off an uproar that hit Page 1 in the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, and the Lansing State Journal. Union officials demanded an apology from Bush.

The gaffe was especially worrisome for Bush in Michigan, where he trails the combined forces of Pat Robertson and US Rep. Jack Kemp in the delegate race.

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