Cuomo-watch nears end: his presidential plans due Deadline tomorrow to join N.H. primary

December 19, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- After months of very public deliberating, New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appears ready to let the world in on his private decision: whether he will, or won't, be a presidential candidate in 1992.

Cuomo aides and advisers have put together many of the elements of a national campaign organization over the past few weeks. Potential staff members and financial contributors are ready to launch into action once they get a clear signal from the governor, which could come as early as today .

Mr. Cuomo has said for weeks he couldn't run unless he resolved his state's budget problems, since to do otherwise would mean abandoning his responsibilities as governor. But late Monday, with budget talks going nowhere, Mr. Cuomo performed one of the rhetorical back flips for which he's renowned in political circles.

He told reporters he might have to become a candidate to "save the state," if it developed that Republican legislators were stalling the negotiations just to keep him from running for president.

While Mr. Cuomo might prefer to remain an unannounced candidate until next summer's Democratic nominating convention in his hometown of New York, the political clock seems to be forcing his hand.

Tomorrow at 5 p.m. is the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary, the first big voter test of the 1992 race. Mr. Cuomo has indicated he would not skip the Feb. 18 primary if he was going to be a candidate.

Mr. Cuomo, 59, would become the presumed front-runner in the Democratic nomination contest the moment he declared his intention to run. That's largely because of his capacity to raise more money than the six announced candidates, as well as his reputation as the party's most powerful public speaker and his strong appeal to liberal activists.

But he is untested as a vote-getter outside New York. And some party leaders, including Democratic Chairman Ronald H. Brown, believe he's hurt himself by appearing to be unable to make up his mind.

The mention of Mr. Cuomo's name drew repeated boos at a gathering of Democratic activists last weekend in Florida. Their resentment was apparently due to a belief that his much-publicized indecision has overshadowed the campaigns of his potential rivals and effectively "frozen" the Democratic contest.

If anything, Mr. Cuomo's popularity seems to have risen. He now trails President Bush by just 5 percentage points, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Cuomo backers cite this as evidence of the brilliance of their man's strategy: It has gained him many advantages of an announced candidacy, including intense national media attention, without exposing him to some of its pitfalls, such as the mistakes front-running candidates can make on the campaign trail.

A top Cuomo adviser, New York Democratic Chairman John Marino, has hinted that the governor would go to Concord, the New Hampshire capital, to pay his filing fee in person. But Mr. Cuomo may choose to tip his hand to fellow New Yorkers first.

This evening, he is scheduled to appear on a WCBS radio call-in show in New York City. Four years ago, amid intense speculation about his plans, Mr. Cuomo used the same program to make a surprise announcement -- that he would not be a candidate for president.

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