AFTER his second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary in February, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton - whose seeming dreadnought of a campaign nearly ran aground on the character issue - dubbed himself the "Comeback Kid." Governor Clinton may still like that moniker, now that he has rebounded from his loss to Jerry Brown in Connecticut to sweep the Democratic primaries held Tuesday in New York, Wisconsin, and Kansas.
But Paul Tsongas may be measuring himself for the comeback mantle, as well. Mr. Tsongas won in New Hampshire and Maryland, but setbacks on Super Tuesday and in Illinois and Michigan induced him to abandon the race. Yet in this campaign year of surprises, non-candidate Tsongas nosed out Mr. Brown for second place in New York and Kansas, and won more delegates than the former California governer.
(Brown still doesn't do well in conventional political warfare; he'll probably go back to being a quick-strike insurgent.)
As a result, Tsongas is pondering a return to the race. Though he was understandably heartened by Tuesday's results, Tsongas will have to examine his prospects with cool, pragmatic eyes.
Clinton has a huge lead over his rivals in delegates; the only hope those rivals have for the nomination is that the so-called super delegates - mainly some 500 Democratic officeholders - will remain uncommitted until the Democratic convention in July. Yet many of those delegates, for whom party unity is nearly as important as "electability," will face pressure to hop on the Clinton bandwagon if the Arkansan continues to sweep up delegates in the remaining 17 state contests.
Also, Tsongas is out of money (the reason he gave for leaving the race), and even his surprising performance Tuesday may not be enough to prompt many Democratic moneyfolk to open their checkbooks. As a candidate redux, Tsongas also would have to overcome the rap that he sat primly at ringside while Clinton and Brown slugged it out in New York, the party's harshest test of political toughness.
Even Tsongas's showing on Tuesday may be deceptive. His principal asset in voters' eyes might not have been his economic plans or even his sterling character, but simply that he was "None of the above."
Therein still lies the Democrats' greatest concern. Despite Clinton's triumphs this week, the frontrunner received well below half the votes cast by fellow Democrats. Exit polls continue to reveal deep voter uncertainty about Clinton's integrity.
It's still too early for the Democrats to start singing, "Happy Days Are Here Again."