Cuomo has New Hampshire's best organization

Mike Royko PbB

February 18, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

IT BEGAN when the Chicago cops bopped all those heads during the 1968 Democratic Convention and the delegates went home mad.

Since then, the pundits and politicians have been asking the same question over and over again: Can anyone ever put the Democratic Party together long enough to win the White House?

True, Jimmy Carter won in 1976. But that was more of a post-Watergate fluke. Also, he had the good fortune to run against Gerald (President Palooka) Ford, who kept falling down.

The rest of the time, they've come up with candidates who didn't have a chance in the first place (George McGovern), or those who swooned when the Republicans played rough (Michael Dukakis).

There are many reasons for this, but the single biggest is that none of the candidates could pull the party together. And that's because none had the forceful personality, the strength of will or the powerful message to get the liberals, the special interest groups, and the traditional bread-and-butter Democrats to stop loathing each other long enough to win.

This has led the political wise men to say it can't be done: the party is now too fragmented to rally behind one man.

But they're wrong. It's already been done.

As evidence, I offer the amazing case of Phil Krone and Don Rose.

Both have been active in Democratic politics in Chicago for more than 30 years. But that's about all they have in common.

Rose has spent most of his life as the classic outsider, fighting City Hall, The Establishment and, most of all, what was called the Daley Machine.

And with considerable success. He ran Jane Byrne's winning race for mayor and put anti-Machine candidates in major county offices and the City Council. When he couldn't find a Democrat reformer to back, he settled for an enlightened Republican.

Rose usually looks like he's wearing something he retrieved from the laundry hamper.

Then there is Krone, in his neat business suits, who juggles two careers: real estate and political consulting.

Krone is your classic political insider, comfortable with the corporate types and on cordial terms with the Daley family and most other main-line Chicago politicians.

I've known both for 30 years. If I mentioned Rose to Krone, Krone's nostrils would quiver and he would question my choice of friends. If I mentioned Krone to Rose, Rose would roll his eyes and mutter something about the strange company I keep.

In all those years, they've seldom been close enough to do more than exchange glares or snubs.

But now they're working together day and night in New Hampshire, running the Draft Cuomo write-in campaign that's become the biggest surprise and news story in that state's primary.

To the army of reporters in New Hampshire, they've become known as the oddest of couples.

Krone started the grass-roots Cuomo campaign in Chicago only a month and a half ago. Rose immediately joined up.

And despite their many past differances, they've made an effective team. One New Hampshire pollster says that despite their shoestring-budget, they've run the best campaign.

Now, why are two such political opposites it this together? And bucking the odds of a write-in campaign for someone who isn't yet a candidate? The answer is simple enough: Cuomo. None of the other candidates could have inspired such an unlikely political mating.

"You get a Cuomo once in your lifetime, if you're lucky," Krone says, "so it's well worth the effort."

And after hearing Cuomo make an electrifying speech at Harvard this week, Rose said: "During the past month, I admit that a few times I've asked myself why I'm doing this. That speech told me why."

They aren't moonbeams, crackpots or inclined -- as one smug Washington pundit put it -- to "chasing a romantic dream." Both have the street smarts that come from working tough Chicago precincts for votes. You go moonbeaming or chasing romantic dreams in Chicago politics, and somebody will invite you out the door head first.

They know that if they can generate a respectable showing for Cuomo, despite their lack of funds for the modern TV campaign, Cuomo might edge closer to getting in where he belongs. And at this point, it's likely that while working on the cheap for a candidate who isn't there, they're almost a cinch to beat out Brown, Harkin and maybe even Kerrey.

Then it will be up to the pundits to decide who the winners and losers are, since you can lose and still win in New Hampshire, as Eugene McCarthy once did, and win while still losing, as Lyndon Johnson did.

The new Hampshire voters seem to understand it. But the campaign seems to baffle much of the news media. It's amazed that someone would say: "No, we're not going to play the primary game your way. We don't want the candidates you say we should choose from. We have someone else in mind, if it's all right with you, and if it isn't, too bad."

Didn't they know, the pundits asked, that Clinton was the front-runner?

(That was two weeks ago, of course. Now they're asking, don't you know that Tsongas is the front-runner? And if Tsongas slips in this poll or that, tomorrow they'll be asking the same question with a different name.)

You would think that urging people to perform the very simple act of writing in the name of the country's most popular Democrat is a revolutionary concept.

Anyway, it ain't over until it's over. Krone and Rose know that. And today we'll see if New Hampshire voters believe them.

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