PIERRE S. du PONT IV may come from American aristocracy, but he goes by the name of Pete. He exemplifies sophistication. But his friendly banter, wry humor, and rather gangly good looks also go over comfortably in coffee shops in small towns in New Hampshire. Still, as Mr. du Pont runs hard for the Republican nomination on a platform of conservative ideas, it's easy to ask whether his message is aimed at only a slice of America. He speaks warmly of American families and the notion that if life is not fine around the kitchen table, then things aren't working right in America.
Is his a message for a largely suburban, white America? He sprinkles his conversation with references to the mother stopping at a gas station with kids in the back seat. One pictures a station wagon with a golden retriever in back.
His idea of taking aim at the drug problem among young Americans by testing teens when they apply for their driver's licenses not only raises constitutional issues. It would probably not have much effect in those inner-city pockets where drugs are sold at grade schools and teen-agers murder to get the change for crack. In New York City, not that many teen-agers get driver's licenses; many urban families don't even own cars. His solution is aimed at those kids in the back of the station wagon.
Many close to the candidate say that being a du Pont, one of this country's most venerable and wealthy families, matters not at all as this thoughtful and energetic man puts forth his ideas for a better America. If anything, they suggest, growing up in a privileged environment broadened his horizons and allowed him to toss around ideas and philosophies while other young men were working hard to earn a living. But he has been most shaped by rolling up his sleeves and doing the work of a legislator and governor, his supporters say.
Yet one can't deny the benefits of a du Pont heritage. Take, for example, the list of individual campaign contributors from Delaware. More than 80 are recognizable as du Pont relatives, and they donated about 18 percent of the contributions from that state.
Pete du Pont has come on as the conservative's conservative in the Republican race. His chances of winning the nomination are slim; in polls, du Pont lingers in or near the cellar. And some accuse him of political opportunism in changing his stripes from moderate to conservative. But relatives and supporters say the point of Pete du Pont goes far beyond traditional American conservatism.
``Pete has a very inquiring and creative mind,'' says Nathan Hayward, a cousin of du Pont who worked in his Delaware administration when du Pont was governor from 1977 to 1985. ``He is restless to see that things that need change do get done.''
David Swayze, a Democrat who was legal counsel and then chief of staff for Governor du Pont, says that duPont had been frustrated as both a state legislator and US congressman. He came alive as governor.
``First of all, he discovered he had not only a significant aptitude, but a zest for executive leadership,'' says Mr. Swayze, a lawyer in Wilmington, Del. ``I think he believes, and I understand why, that his personal skills are badly needed at the federal level.''
These skills include the ability to inspire confidence and to extract from those who work with him the same degree of commitment and level of energy that he has, Swayze says. Also, he has the ability to see further down the road than the next political hurdle.
``Pete du Pont has never been one who has dwelt on the quick fix,'' says Swayze.
Some of du Pont's associates say conservative is not really the correct label for the candidate. He is a pragmatist, they say, and a consensus builder. Some call him a libertarian.
But some of his ``damn right'' solu-tions have been derided by the other Republican candidates. George Bush calls du Pont's ideas on social security ``nutty.'' Even Jack Kemp, a fellow economic conservative, rejects his suggestion that farm subsidies be phased out in five years.
Some accuse du Pont of adopting such stances as a means of distinguishing himself as a candidate.
Sam Shipley, head of the state Democratic Party in Delaware, says du Pont was popular with Republicans, independents, and many Democrats. ``He was a good-government person,'' Mr. Shipley says. ``I would have termed him a moderate.''
NOW, says Shipley, du Pont is posturing for the right wing of American politics. He points to such issues as the drug-testing for teens and to du Pont's comments about the Soviet Union as he explains his opposition to the recently signed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
``I have nothing but the highest regard for his integrity and character,'' says Shipley. ``But I am surprised - and disappointed - he has gone as far as he has.''
Others demur. Mitchell Daniels, president of the Hudson Institute, says du Pont saw that in order to mobilize a core of support in the primaries, he would have to focus on ideas. He does not have a natural geographical base, coming from the tiny state of Delaware on the Eastern Seaboard. But Mr. Daniels says ``opportunistic'' is not the right way to describe du Pont's out-front, controversial stands.
``These are very risky ideas politically,'' says Daniels. ``But while they are initially unpopular, it's not necessarily a bad political strategy.''
Daniels and others say du Pont's ideas and philosophy developed naturally over the years. The former governor is not, they say, a Johnny-come-lately to conservative thinking. Indeed, du Pont spent a year as the chairman of the Hudson Institute, a think tank known for its conservative and libertarian ideas. Others point to his years as governor.
``What is there in Pete du Pont's experience that foreshadows his stands of today?'' asks Bill Manning, a Wilmington lawyer who was a top aide to the governor. He says there was a lot that showed that du Pont was against excessive government in people's lives and business.
``It jumps right out at you,'' says Mr. Manning. ``Here's a governor, for example, that vetoed a motorcycle helmet bill in the late '70s. He vetoed a `buy America' bill even though Delaware had a steel mill that was failing. There are strong philosophical anchors in his conservatism.''
Like others, Manning says a lot of these ideas solidified while du Pont was governor.
``When one has to make decisions, one doesn't have the luxury of intellectual softness,'' Manning says. He points out that duPont became governor of a state that was near bankruptcy - a claim local Democrats say is overstated - and had a lot of people out of work. He turned the state around. He had a vision of a economic climate where people could get jobs. ``That's classic Pete du Pont.''
``The social security idea doesn't seem to be on a conservative/liberal continuum,'' says Manning. ``It's smart management.''
Swayze says the labeling process - figuring out whether du Pont is a conservative or moderate or what - is a little misleading. What his former boss is doing is much more subtle, says Swayze. He is laying down solutions to fundamental problems, some of which are quite novel, and challenging others to come up with better ideas if they don't like his.
``[His solutions] resolve problems that we can no longer afford to band-aid,'' says Swayze, who says he's disappointed that people like Vice-President Bush have refused, in essence, to accept the challenge of coming up with better ideas, instead resorting to name calling.
``[Du Pont is] saying we can no longer ratchet up here and there.'' Unless we have a fairly radical approach, Swayze says, ``our problems are going to engulf us. I hope that message is not lost.''
Mr. Hayward, who worked with du Pont on economic development in Delaware, says du Pont's consistent brand of politics won him great support in his home state.
``Pete was able to convince the legislature that good business could be good politics,'' Hayward says.
THOSE who have worked closely with du Pont often bring up his sense of humor. These supporters see it as a strength. Hayward talks of being locked into rooms hotly debating policy, when the governor would break the tension with some levity.
``He has a keen eye for the offbeat and whimsical,'' says Swayze. ``He's a magician, a consummate juggler, and always quick to entertain. It's a very important side [of du Pont]. He can have a relaxed, laid-back approach to crisis.''
``One way to describe Pete du Pont is to forget his governmental philosophy and his last name,'' says Manning. ``What makes him tick is that he is an engineer and an entertainer.''
Du Pont, who received an engineering degree from Princeton, intellectually breaks everything down to small parts and puts them back together, several of his former aides say. His thinking reflects his engineering background, rather than the legal training he received at Harvard later. Even his doodles are linear and exact, Manning says.
Others say this is again a reflection of his American gentry upbringing: the best schools, the parties from childhood where Very Important People spoke as equals, the lack of worry about finances (though Pete du Pont is not one of the wealthiest of his kin).
But can he, a man whose executive experience has been in running one of the smallest states in the US, translate his visions and ideas to an America that is anything but linear and exact?
Seventh in a series. Tomorrow: Michael Dukakis.
Bold, hey-look-me-over ideas
AS the candidate who seems eager to out-Reagan President Reagan, Pete du Pont has floated some ideas that have created sparks along the campaign trail:
Abolish farm subsidy programs. Change the social security system. Test high school students for drugs. Make education systems more competitive by allowing parents to enroll their children anywhere. Replace welfare with a mandatory work program.
``This campaign,'' says Mr. du Pont, `` is not about picking a person. It's about choosing a course of action.''
Embraces supply-side. Du Pont says the high point of Mr. Reagan's presidency was his economic policy of 1981. Tax cuts and low inflation have been a boon to US families, he says, insisting that there is nothing more corrosive to Americans than high inflation.
Du Pont, who credits his supply-side tactics in Delaware with helping turn the state around economically, supports a vigorous free-market system.
The deficit. He says cutting the federal deficit would not be the top economic priority of his administration. Rather, he says, the goal would be increasing economic opportunity for people by keeping inflation and taxes low. To shrink the deficit, he places emphasis almost exclusively on lowering spending.
Farm subsidies. Du Pont says the current system, with the government heavily into the agricultural marketplace, has outlived its usefulness. He says a free-market farm system would be much healthier, and he would phase out subsides over five years. His stand does not play well in Iowa.
Education. He decries the state of American education, claiming that this country has only the 10th-best educational system in the world. He believes in educational vouchers to allow families to have a choice in where and how their children are schooled.
Social security. Du Pont predicts that the current retirement system will be bankrupt early in the next century as the number of retired people outpaces the capacity of workers to support them. He would allow workers partly to opt out of the present system and receive tax credits for setting up private ``financial security accounts.''
Welfare. He says the current welfare system has helped destroy families. There is much work to do in this country, says du Pont, whether it be using poor mothers as hall monitors in schools, aides at day-care centers, or visiting with the elderly or veterans in nursing homes and hospitals. His program would include job training and counseling, and if a person did not find work, he or she would be required to work for the government at 90 percent of minimum wage.
Drugs. Du Pont calls for mandatory drug testing of high school students. He says that to get a driver's license a young person should pass a drug test as well as a driving test.
Foreign affairs. Du Pont sees the recent nuclear missile treaty signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev as ``flawed.'' He says Congress, when considering the treaty, should introduce a reservation linking the removal of missiles to the issue of the balance of conventional forces. But, says du Pont, as president he would be willing to look at the right treaty.
Du Pont supports aid to the contra rebels in Central America, opposes trade protection policies, and says that the US needs to increase its intelligence capacity as part of the battle against terrorism.
Guarding privacy in a public life
ALTHOUGH Pete du Pont has sheltered his family from intensive scrutiny by the news media during his public career, his family has long been an integral part of his career.
``Pete is extremely close and protective of Elise and the children,'' a former aide says. The media are not invited to Patterns, the family's home near Wilmington. ``His family was and is an important part of his life.''
His wife, Elise, an independent woman from a wealthy Philadelphia family, got her law degree during her husband's second term as governor, and worked at the US Agency for International Development. She ran for Congress in Delaware in 1984 but was defeated handily.
Despite his active career, Mr. du Pont has reportedly made time for his four children - sometimes putting government business aside. One former aide remembers that during a critical time in the Delaware legislature, du Pont had earlier made a promise to a daughter to take her to a Broadway show for her birthday. And that's just what he did.
Du Pont was also close to his parents, particularly his mother. And the du Pont clan at large, which has great influence in Delaware, is also a part of his life. Several of his cousins have worked for him and continue to support his campaign.
As governor, du Pont established a reputation for picking highly qualified and honest administrators for top government posts.