Although Republican presidential campaigns turned the once proud "liberal" label into a liability, Democrats seeking the 1992 nomination are still willing to wear it -- but with caution.
In pitching for the endorsement of the Mount Royal Democratic Club last night, local representatives of those Democrats seemed to feel more comfortable surrounding the liberal label with a forest of qualifiers.
Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska is "a western, independent, liberal Jeffersonian Democrat," said Martin O'Malley, the new 3rd District city councilman who is Kerrey's state coordinator.
What that means today is a candidate who is for national health care, a federal agency to "pick winners" among high technology companies for federal investment, federal subsidies to school districts that innovate and new technology to link the home with school for learning, he said.
Being a former senator from Massachusetts, Paul Tsongas "can't deny being very much a liberal," said Patrick Smith, who heads the Tsongas effort in Maryland. But "on an economic level, we've got to do something as Democrats with business," Smith said.
He said that includes lowering the capital gains tax to encourage long-term investment and changing anti-trust laws to allow for more joint ventures between big corporations and small research and development firms.
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa "is not afraid to wear the liberal label," said his Baltimore coordinator, Steve Snyder. "But if you ask him to describe himself, he'll say he's a populist."
Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton has positioned himself as the most conservative of the bunch, although he is "more progressive"
than Jimmy Carter was in 1976, said Kim McCoy,
chairwoman of the Anne Arundel Democratic Central Committee. She is neutral in the campaign, but she substituted last night for a Clinton operative who was ill.
Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder dropped out of the presidential race Wednesday. And former California Gov. Jerry Brown so far has no known office in Maryland that could be invited to send a representative to speak, said Sen. Julian Lapides, of District 44, who is the Mount Royal president.
Last night was a chance for the candidates' local surrogates to make a case for an endorsement by the 400-member club that draws Democrats mainly from Bolton Hill and Charles Village. Lapides said the club would make its choice in February, less than a month before Maryland's March 3 presidential primary.
As the candidate surrogates fielded questions last night, Kerrey's man, O'Malley, answered a query about campaign inclusiveness with an assurance that the local delegate slate was evenly split between men and women, blacks and whites.
Smith said Tsongas' slate so far was running 20 percent black with "a number of gays, only one lesbian" included.
The mood last night was mostly buoyant over the prospect that President Bush is vulnerable on the issue of national economic decline, and that Democrats would be poised at election time to offer a winning alternative.
But some in the audience, such as David Sherbow, a Baltimore lawyer, worried that the nation was sinking too deep in the hole for the next president to pull it out. And if the next president is a Democrat, he could be blamed for a crash that has been looming for years, Sherbow said.
He compared the next U.S. president to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was elected to great acclaim, but now "can't do enough quick enough" to lead the way out of the Soviet system.