Don't write off Cuomo as a write-in candidate On Politics Today

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

February 14, 1992|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

Cambridge, Mass. -- AT HARVARD'S Kennedy School of Government the other night, Gov. Mario Cuomo once again tantalized Democrats with a forceful, colorful speech on combating the recession that many would love to hear from him -- as a presidential candidate.

Among those in the audience were organizers of a draft-Cuomo write-in campaign in New Hampshire that with limited funds far exceeds in sophistication the 1964 write-in that won the Republican primary for Henry Cabot Lodge.

In the question-and-answer period Mr. Cuomo, given the opportunity to disavow the effort, instead tantalized in another way.

Who am I, he asked, to tell New Hampshirites they can't vote for

whomever they choose? Under their state law, he said, "you can write in Pinocchio, you can write in Mario Cuomo, you can write in anybody you want. 'Live Free,' that's New Hampshire . . . What do you want me to tell them? 'Don't do it. Whatever you do, put in any name, not my name.' Why not? Why shouldn't they do it if they feel like doing it? Who am I to say . . .' All you people in the United States of America, hear this: If you have a law that says you can write in anybody's name, write in Pinocchio, don't write in Mario.' In my own state, they're saying lousy things about me. If they're want to say nice things in New Hampshire, I'm going to encourage them."

The response drew howls of laughter, and the draft-Cuomo operatives came away grinning, knowing that the New York governor had said nothing to impede their efforts, and if anything gave them a boost. That Mr. Cuomo also said he expected the nominee to be one of the five leading declared candidates, and that voters should hear them out, did not change the fact that he was not slamming the door on a draft.

In New Hampshire, the draft campaign is running television and radio ads urging a write-in. The television commercial shows Mr. Cuomo on one side of a split screen commenting on the depth of the recession while an unseen hand slowly prints his name on the right side.

Under the direction of Don Rose, a veteran Chicago political consultant who was involved in winning mayoral campaigns for Jane Byrne and the late Harold Washington, 72,000 mailings have gone out instructing voters how to write in Cuomo's name, depending on what kind of machine or paper ballot is used in a particular city or town.

The goal, Mr. Rose says, is to win 15 percent of the vote, qualifying Cuomo to receive one or more national convention delegates. If Mr. Cuomo were to post a larger vote than some of the declared candidates, the campaign could well draw enough money to press on in other states -- and keep the talk of a Cuomo draft alive, especially with his non-disavowal.

The Cuomo write-in is the second under way in New Hampshire. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is urging voters to write his name in on either the Democratic or Republican ballot to support placing a "None of the Above" line on future ballots.

Mr. Rose argues that the two write-ins are not competitive, because the Nader effort is a protest against the system, while the Cuomo campaign goal is "to create a draft, and we hope Mario doesn't dodge the draft." The write-ins, however, do share the view that the declared candidates won't do.

The deep troubles of Gov. Bill Clinton that have sent him plunging in the polls have muddied the picture in New Hampshire and could make the draft-Cuomo effort more attractive to voters. The latest Boston Globe tracking poll -- going back to the same voters nightly -- has Mr. Clinton dropping from 35 percent to 19 in less than a week.

The draft-Cuomo television ad, to be run 65 times over Manchester's top-rated channel before Tuesday's primary, not only urges voters to write in Mr. Cuomo's name but also deftly counters the oft-heard argument that he is too liberal.

Obviously speaking of President Bush, Mr. Cuomo is seen and heard saying: "He's had a free enterprise system that made 1 percent very rich. You have to put people like my family to work in the free enterprise system. You have to have free enterprise for the many. What do you want to call that? Conservative? Liberal? I call it American common sense."

Those who hear Mr. Cuomo declining to shut down the draft campaign might be inclined to say it's common sense, too, to conclude that he really wants to encourage it.

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