WASHINGTON ` — WASHINGTON -- A group of leading Democratic fund-raisers issued a casting call for 1992 presidential candidates this week, and the closed-door auditions at a Georgetown luxury hotel produced surprising results.
After screening several hopefuls, the big-money men and women left town yesterday singing the praises of two in particular: Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.
The raves for Mr. Harkin were a special surprise, since the senator rates as one of the most liberal Democrats in Washington, and his populist message is clearly not tuned for such a well-heeled crowd.
"He is too far to the left," remarked E. William Crotty of Daytona Beach, Fla., a lawyer. "But he's such a dynamic individual . . . I can see him coming out of the pack."
Sen. Al Gore, meanwhile, seemed to have laid an egg. That, too, was unexpected, since the Tennessee senator was lured into the 1988 presidential race, in part, by pledges of support from members of the group, known as Impac, and itsfounder, Nathan Landow, a Bethesda developer.
Mr. Gore spoke informally at a cocktail reception Tuesday evening, and Mr. Clinton addressed a dinner of the group that night. Former Sen. Paul Tsongas, the only announced candidate, addressed the fund-raisers yesterday, along with Mr. Harkin, who has formed an exploratory committee.
"I thought Gore did the worst," said William W. Batoff, a Philadelphia real estate and insurance executive.
One man who collected money for Mr. Gore last time and would like to do so again in 1992 attributed the senator's lackluster performance to indecision about the race.
"He's equivocating and holding back," said Howard Glicker, a Miami developer.
In all, about 50 major fund-raisers attended the meeting. Each, according to Mr. Landow, is capable of generating in excess of $100,000 in contributions.
That sort of financial muscle has appeal to presidential candidates,particularly those who are less well-known or lack a national financial base, as they contemplate the enormous chore of raising as much as $6 million to $10 million over the next year.
Mr. Landow, who also serves as Maryland Democratic Party chairman, said his group expects to meet again this fall and hear from potential candidates unable to attend yesterday's session, including Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia and, possibly, Gov. Mario M.Cuomo of New York.
He said it was possible that a significant number of Impac members might unite behind a single candidate, though for now, at least, most remain uncommitted.
The meeting preceded by one day a similar gathering at an estate in the Virginia hunt country, convened by Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown.
The party session, rather than courting donors for a particular candidate, is largely designed to solicit several million dollars in big contributions to the party, so-called "soft money," to help fund the DNC's 1992 political operations, including get-out-the-vote and registration efforts.
Among those expected to attend are 21 leading business, entertainment and labor figures, top Democratic strategists and as many as 11 present or future presidential candidates. A DNC aide explained that potential givers at the party meeting represent "a higher level" of wealth than the Impac members, who were not invited.