CONCORD,N.H. — Concord,N.H.-- A CHICAGO-BASED campaign to draft New York Gov. Mario Cuomo for the Democratic presidential nomination, bankrolled with a modest $52,000 so far, plans to open a New Hampshire headquarters here on Feb. 1 -- without Cuomo's blessing, but without his disavowal either.
The effort is being headed by Phil Krone, a Chicago business consultant and publicist and longtime political gadfly, with veteran Chicago campaign consultant Don Rose as national political director.
The draft started with its prime focus on the Illinois Democratic primary on March 17. According to Mr. Krone, it will file 98 candidates for national convention delegates from Illinois next Tuesday, the filing deadline.
But Mr. Rose acknowledges that much will depend on demonstrating voter support for Governor Cuomo as a write-in candidate in the kickoff primary in New Hampshire on Feb. 18. "If the guy does well in New Hampshire and picks up delegates in Maine (holding caucuses on Feb. 23)," Mr. Rose says, "people will pay attention." By the same token, he says, "if the Cuomo draft does poorly in New Hampshire, it's obviously going to remove some momentum."
To prevent that outcome, a modest direct-mail effort is planned and, if finances warrant, a final weekend television ad that, Mr. Rose says, will say something like "You've looked at all the rest, now follow your heart" and write-in Cuomo.
Mr. Krone insists that the present field of Democratic candidates simply does not have the stature to command voter support. He talks of "five vice presidents in search of a presidency." And he asks, flippantly, "if you were casting Batman and Robin" with Governor Cuomo and perceived front-runner Gov.Bill Clinton in the hiring line, "which would you pick for Batman?"
Meanwhile, back at the stately Cuomo mansion in Albany, the governor continues to say he is not going to be a candidate and that a draftsimply is not going to happen. His party chairman in New York, John Marino, says however that he will not disavow the Chicago-based undertaking because "they're not going to pay any attention to me."
Regardless of Governor Cuomo's statement before Christmas that he will stay out of the 1992 race, Mr. Rose says he believes Governor Cuomo is looking at the draft "as his backdoor" into the campaign if no candidate nails down the nomination going into ** the later state primaries.
One who is skeptical about the prospects of a Cuomo draft in NewHampshire is former Democratic state chairman Joseph Grandmaison, the man who was poised to file candidacy papers for the New York governor in Concord when Governor Cuomo blew the whistle.
"Without resources, I don't see how it proceeds," he says. "There's a sense of romanticism tied to a write-in effort, but you have to be practical." While noting that non-candidate Henry Cabot Lodge won the 1964 Republican primary on a write-in and President Lyndon B. Johnson ran first on one in 1968, Mr. Grandmaison says the wider use of voting machines makes it harder now.
Mr. Krone disputes the contention, noting that the bottom line on long ballot is for write-ins, and hence easily spotted by voters with a mind to scribble in Cuomo. But Mr. Grandmaison argues that with "five [major] candidates selling their wares, educating voters to write in" the name of a man who says he's not a candidate will not be easy.
"It's hard to imagine how it goes," Mr. Grandmaison says, "with Cuomo up there (in Albany) saying 'No, no, no' and people here saying 'Yes, yes, yes.' If somebody isn't up here actively campaigning, we assume he's not running." Besides, he says, "almost all of the politicians who have said they wanted to be with Cuomo have now gone with other candidates."
The Cuomo draft effort will not be the only bid for write-in votes. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is running as a stand-in for having a "None of the Above" line on the ballot. But Ken Deutsch, managing this campaign, says Mr. Nader's support comes "from people who usually don't vote in primaries," and suggests the Cuomo draft is more likely to take votes from the declared candidates, not from Nader.
In any event, the yearning for Governor Cuomo still beats in some breasts, and the draft campaign will provide an outlet for it. But even its strategists like Rose acknowledge they are betting on a long-shot.