Three Democrats have said out loud they are ready...


April 03, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN, JR

AT LAST. Three Democrats have said out loud they are ready to run for president in 1992. You know what that means.

It means the political handicappers have to start giving odds.

Paul Tsongas. 10,000 to 1 against winning the presidential nomination, 1,000 to 1 against winning the vice presidential. He has never run for national office before. Track record is very important. About 75 percent of all presidential nominees ran and lost before they ran and won the nomination.

Some critics say Tsongas' liability is that he is a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts of Greek extraction. True. Being ethnic does hurt (I'll come back to that), so does being liberal, so does being Northern. We haven't elected a president with those last two characteristics in 30 years. But Tsongas' credentials are so meager that he wouldn't be taken seriously if his name were Paul Gaston and he was from Dallas.

He quit the U.S. Senate in 1984 after one unmemorable term, when he found he had cancer (since cured). He said at the time he was quitting because being with his children was more important than being senator. Now he wants to be president. Puts thing in perspective, doesn't it kids?

Today's public has never heard of him, and politicians, fund raisers and journalists don't take him seriously. If he were a racehorse and showed up at Pimlico, they'd shoot him. What's that? They only shoot horses with broken legs? Okay, if he showed up at Pimlico, they'd break his leg, then they'd shoot him.

George McGovern. Prohibitive odds. He has been around thtrack before -- carrying one state in 1972. Twenty years is a l-o-o-o-n-g time between races. If he showed up at a race track today, he'd vanish from your world -- unless you eat very cheap hamburger or sniff glue.

Douglas Wilder. Wilder has more meager credentials thaTsongas. He's held a high-level serious office -- governor of Virginia -- for barely over a year. Not only that, but he's black. Every presidential candidate ever -- but Dukakis -- has had northern European bloodlines. At least a couple of whites of non-northern European bloodlines have been nominated for vice president, but no blacks.

Still I'd put the odds against Wilder's being on the ticket at only 10-1. Every once in a great while a horse with all the wrong qualifications comes out of nowhere to win a big race (Michael Dukakis, Ted Agnew, Jimmy Carter, Wendell Willkie and James Polk, the original "dark horse" president). (It will be interesting to see how comedians and cartoonists handle a dark dark horse.)

Even if he doesn't get on the ticket, Wilder will come out of the race with increased stature. That's even money. He won't come out looking foolish, which is more than Tsongas and McGovern can expect.

Wilder's candidacy will also have an important symbolic effect. No, not the one you're thinking about.

Saturday: Conservative Southern Democrats.

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