WASHINGTON -- As summer comes to an end, some more Democratic prospects are sticking their toes into the presidential pool.
This week, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska became the latest to admit that he might take the plunge in 1992. Mr. Kerrey, a new-generation Democrat perhaps best-known for his romance with actress Debra Winger, expects to decide within the next week to 10 days whether he'll run, a spokesman said yesterday.
The 48-year-old decorated Vietnam War veteran is reviewing his plans in the wake of recent decisions by Sens. Albert Gore Jr. and John D. Rockefeller IV and Representative Richard A. Gephardt not to enter the race, said Steve Jarding, the senator's press secretary.
The gaping hole created by the apparent unwillingness of more prominent Democrats to take on a popular president could draw other unlikely starters as well, including former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. of California, who is reported to be on the verge of abandoning a planned 1992 Senate campaign in favor of another presidential try.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has said he will decide later this fall whether to stage a third presidential campaign. At least three other Democrats, none of them well-known outside their home states, are also nearing decisions on whether to become candidates. The lone announced Democratic candidate is former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, who has attracted little support.
Republican politicians, and many Democrats, contend that none the likely Democratic candidates has the stature to seriously challenge President Bush, whose personal popularity, already high in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, could be enhanced further by the demise of the Soviet Communist Party.
Republican National Chairman Clayton K. Yeutter said recently that comparing the field of Democratic hopefuls with Mr. Bush was "like comparing high school football players with the San Francisco 49ers."
This "stature gap" has led to continuing speculation that a Democratic heavyweight such as New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo might ultimately decide to run. Mr. Cuomo has refused to close the door on a '92 candidacy but has taken no steps toward becoming a candidate other than to make sporadic speech-making trips around the country.
Mr. Cuomo's ability to raise money quickly and his reputation as a master campaigner could allow him to enter late and still compete, Democratic politicians say. But for most Democratic contenders, the effective deadline for getting in is next month, in order to begin organizing for the primaries that begin next February.
A flurry of pre-Labor Day political activity indicates that the Democratic race is about to begin, although several of the likely candidates seem to be hesitating before jumping into the deep waters of a campaign.
There were reports that Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who is testing his appeal this week in New Hampshire, the first primary state, may wait until the end of September before announcing his plans. He had said earlier that he would signal his intentions by this weekend.
Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton told reporters the other day that he has not yet decided to run, and Clinton advisers confirmed that he is not yet 100 percent committed to a '92 race.
Nonetheless, his potential candidacy is getting a strong assist with the expected announcement today that Democratic Party Treasurer Robert Farmer, whose prodigious fund-raising talents helped Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis secure the 1988 nomination, is resigning his party job to raise money for Mr. Clinton's exploratory committee.
Sen. Tom Harkin, who once said he might announce his plans sometime this month, is also not completely ready to join the '92 race, according to supporters.
If no better-known Democrat jumps in, Mr. Harkin is likely to be installed as an early favorite to win the nomination, along with Mr. Clinton. The Iowa senator's unabashed liberalism appears to have gained him considerable support from party activists.
"He's turning Democrats on," said Nathan Landow, the Maryland Democratic chairman. "He's a scrapper, and I think that's what the Democratic Party needs."