THE sluggish tempo of Democratic presidential politics finally may be picking up. Ronald Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Com-mittee, says eight to 10 Democrats are seriously considering a race in 1992 against President Bush. He expects several well-known Democratic political figures to enter the contest this summer.
The chairman also revealed that most of the potential candidates will hold an unusual meeting June 13-14 to plot strategy for the party's 1992 campaign.
They will gather with about 20 major party donors and officials at the Middleburg, Va., estate of Pamela Harriman, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser and contributor.
During the past several days, Mr. Brown has met one-on-one with most of the potential presidential candidates, and he concludes: "We're not going to have any shortage of candidates who are going to run tough, competitive, aggressive races against George Bush."
Among the possible entries, and Brown's assessment of their plans:
Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York: "I think [he] is looking seriously at it. I think we'll know by the end of this summer whether he's going to run."
Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee: "He's grappling with some family concerns about whether he wants to ... spend as much time as would be required away from his family.... My own view is that he is probably likely to do it."
Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri: "Still looking at it seriously."
Sen. George Mitchell of Maine: "I think [he] has not closed the door on it.... He ought to still be on the list."
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas: "Has not closed the door on it."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson: d put him in the Bentsen category as somebody who hasn't closed the door, but isn't sending strong signals that he's looking at it now."
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia: "That is not a name that people had really expected for this election cycle.... I think [he] is looking at it very seriously."
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia: "There's no question that [he] is looking at it seriously, moving around the country."
Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas: "He's clearly looking at it."
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa: "Harkin is certainly sending all the signals. He's looking for new staff people. He's doing traveling."
Only Tsongas for now
The only candidate officially in the race is former US Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.
Although most political pundits give the Democrats little chance of capturing the White House in 1992, the chairman says political trends are beginning to turn toward his party.
He explains: "As we get further away from the Persian Gulf war, I think the focus will be more and more on domestic issues, on economic issues, and that's why I think it's likely that we Democrats will do well in 1992."
Brown says: "The American people feel economically insecure right now," and when they do, "they tend to turn to the Democratic Party."
The chairman also believes Republicans are losing their presidential grip on the South and West, regions where voters have put two successive Republican presidents into office. In 1990, Democrats grabbed governorships in Texas and Florida, the two largest Southern states. And out West, presidential races are getting closer.
"The West is the land of opportunity for the Democratic Party," Brown says, "even in California." He notes that Republican presidential candidates carried California by about 1.4 million votes in 1980, but by only 350,000 votes in 1988.
The chairman also argues that Vice President Dan Quayle will help Democrats pull an upset next year. "It's going to be an important factor," he says. In a close contest, Mr. Quayle could hurt the GOP by "a couple points here and there." Bush's recent medical problems, and the widespread doubts about Quayle's capabilities could make the vice presidency "more of a factor in '92 than it's been in the past."
Meanwhile, Brown is working with leading members of his party to develop a modus operandi for the next campaign. He admits quite frankly that he is emulating the Republicans.
All ready to go
The chairman has developed a general-election campaign plan that will have the staff, the research, the computers, and the polling ready to go immediately after the 1992 national convention - just like the GOP.
In earlier years, "our whole focus has been on primary politics, rather than general election politics.... We [waited] until after the convention to figure out what we were going to do in the general election."
That's why Brown has called the June meeting with as many potential candidates as possible (though Governor Cuomo says he won't attend).
It's also why Brown's staff already meets regularly with political operatives associated with each of the potential candidates.
This time, Democrats plan to hit the ground running.