By the Times Mirror Center for People and the...

A NEW POLL

November 13, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

A NEW POLL by the Times Mirror Center for People and the Press finds that if the presidential election were held today, George Bush would defeat New York Gov. Mario Cuomo by a 58-37 percent margin.

So what else is new?

A Gallup Poll conducted four years ago, almost exactly as far in advance of the 1988 election as the new Times Mirror poll is in advance of the 1992 election, found that Vice President Bush would defeat Governor Cuomo 53-37 percent.

This year's landslide showing by Bush against Cuomo is bad news for the Democrats. Cuomo is the favorite Democrat among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. He is the choice of 30 percent of those respondents, says Times Mirror. Former California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. came in a distant second with 18 percent; the rest of the field is really weak: Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton got 9 percent, Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder 8, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin 6, Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey 5, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas 4 percent.

So Cuomo will win the nomination if he seeks it and then will lose badly in November, right? And if he doesn't seek the nomination, the Democratic winner will do even worse, right? Probably. But there are a couple of ways for the Democrats to get around this.

Plan A is to pick a better candidate than those on the above list. In 1987 Gallup found that two Democrats would do much better than Cuomo in a race against Bush.

Gary Hart beat Bush 50-42 in a trial heat. Edward Kennedy beat Bush 46-45. So either or both of those men on the 1992 ticket should, if you accept the logic of polls, do better than any other Democrats on the scene.

But that logic is illogical. Since the 1987 poll was taken, Hart got caught with his pants down and Kennedy got caught with his off.

So that leaves Plan B. The Times Mirror Poll found an unidentified "the Democratic candidate" would edge Bush out by 43-41 percent. So the Democrats should run an unknown. I don't mean a newcomer who was unknown till he got the nomination. I mean someone who wouldn't even be known in the campaign after the nomination.

It's legal. Citizens technically cast their votes for presidential electors. Democratic electors would be pledged to a Democrat nominated in secret, unidentified to the general public, who would campaign with a grocery bag over his head.

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