Cuomo's Bow Gives Field of Democrats Freedom to Charge
WASHINGTON — THE Democratic Party, like a Hollywood moviemaker, now asks: Can we produce a winner in 1992 without a superstar like Mario Cuomo?When Governor Cuomo of New York opted out of the presidential race on the final filing day for the New Hampshire primary, he removed what many Democratic leaders saw as their strongest rival to President Bush. Susan Estrich, who ran the 1988 presidential campaign for Michael Dukakis, says: "I have enormous respect for the people who are running, but Mario Cuomo ... starts out with a whole lot more credibility." For some Democrats, 1992 without Cuomo is like "Gone With the Wind" without Clark Gable. It's just not the same. Yet Cuomo's departure will produce some immediate good results. Many Democratic contributors were waiting on the sidelines for a Cuomo campaign while the six principal Democrats already in the race were starving for funds. Now the money should start flowing. Cuomo himself discounts the importance of his presence in next year's race. It's the message, not the man, that is important, he emphasizes. And the crucial message in 1992 will be fixing the crippled American economy. Referring to the president's forthcoming trip to Asia, Cuomo says Bush should put America's case directly to Japanese leaders, saying: m here for the poor people. I'm here for the people out of work. I'm here for the big steel workers with the thick fingers who can't handle computers.... I want jobs for my people." It's that kind of impassioned politics that many Democrats longed for from Cuomo. But without the governor, here is how analysts see the forthcoming primary season: Who benefits most by Cuomo's decision? There are several immediate beneficiaries in the New Hampshire primary, which is the first in the nation. First, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa gains ground. His message is similar to Cuomo's, but the governor could have overshadowed him. Second, there is former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Polls showed him neck-and-neck with Cuomo in New Hampshire. Third, Gov. Bill Clinton probably gains as the conservative-to-moderate alternative to his moderate-to-liberal opponents. Does anybody lose? That's a point of some debate. It is said that Cuomo would be the Democrats' strongest possible entry against Bush. But some Republicans suggest that Governor Clinton, for one, might be even more challenging in the long run because of his appeal to moderates and Southerners. Was the nomination Cuomo's for the asking? Not at all. One leading Democrat in New Hampshire says the governor "would have peaked" on the day he announced. But others say he would have been the odds-on favorite because of his high name recognition, his powerful speaking style, and his ability to tap campaign funds out of New York City. Without Cuomo in the race, which Democrat shows the most promise? Experts usually say Clinton, Harkin, and Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska are the ones to watch. But Mr. Tsongas has a strong organization in New Hampshire, former Gov. Jerry Brown of California has higher name recognition than any of the others, and Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia may do well in the Southern primaries. What are Democratic prospects in 1992 against Bush? Six months ago, they looked terrible. But today, with thousands of Americans losing their jobs, Bush has problems - and he knows it.