It's not make-believe: Cuomo could be nominee

ROGER SIMON

March 06, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

The interesting thing about John Donaldson, 21, of Hunt Valley, is not that Mario Cuomo has called him twice in the last few weeks to chat.

Mario Cuomo likes to chat. If you have a listed number, he might call you to chat.

No, the interesting thing about Donaldson is that when he was a high school student in Baltimore and went down to Annapolis as a legislative page, he met all the political leaders of this state and still decided that politics was a worthwhile human endeavor.

Now that's what I call interesting.

Today, Donaldson is about to kick off something called the Mock Convention at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and thereby earn his 15 minutes in the national spotlight.

Do not worry if you have never heard of the Mock Convention. Political junkies, including Mario Cuomo, have.

Which is why Cuomo has been having very serious conversations with John Donaldson on the phone.

The mock conventions at Washington and Lee have correctly picked the party nominees 14 out of 19 times since 1908. And they have been correct every time since 1952, with the exception of 1972, when the convention went for Ted Kennedy over George McGovern.

The conventions are so accurate because unlike most mock conventions, Washington and Lee's is not a measure of student preference. It is a research project in which the students try to predict who the party not in the White House will actually nominate that year.

"We've been doing research since last spring," Donaldson, the administrative chairman of the convention, said. "We have been collecting information on the candidates and the demographics of each state.

"The idea is to be as objective as we can be. We are trying to determine how each state will vote in New York City at the Democratic Convention in July."

Some states are easy to predict because they have already held their primaries.

But what of all the Super Tuesday states that vote next week? And what about Illinois and Michigan, which vote on St. Patrick's Day? Whom are they going to go for? That's what the delegates at the mock convention must determine.

"Each state is assigned a student state chairman," Donaldson said, "and the chairmen have been calling the party leaders, the political scientists, etc., to determine which candidate is strongest in each state. We also study the socio-economic backgrounds in each state to get a snapshot of how each state will vote. Then we vote at our mock convention and pick a nominee."

And?

"And we have been having a tough time so far," Donaldson admitted. "It is very close between Tsongas and Clinton. The results are potentially explosive."

Which may be why Mario Cuomo so readily agreed to deliver the keynote speech tomorrow. (Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill and Michael Dukakis will speak tonight.)

Some think that Cuomo accepted the invitation because he intends to stampede the convention into giving him the nomination. And, as Cuomo knows, the mock convention gets national press coverage.

But could Cuomo really pull that off?

"Yes," said Donaldson. "If we deadlock on the first ballot, Cuomo could be drafted on the second ballot."

But how likely is it that the convention will go to a second ballot?

"I would be surprised if a candidate does win it on first ballot," Donaldson said.

And keep in mind that the entire point of the mock convention is to mirror reality. So if the mock convention this weekend deadlocks and nominates Cuomo, that is supposed to mean the same thing will happen at the real Democratic Convention.

Which, let's face facts, is just an interesting fantasy at this point. But the event seems to be one that Cuomo is taking very seriously.

"He has called me twice now," Donaldson said. "He has called personally and talked about 20 minutes each time. He is very easy to talk to. He seemed very interested and enthusiastic."

Would you like to know just how enthusiastic?

The New York Times called up Cuomo's spokeswoman a few days ago and asked if Cuomo really was hoping to get the nomination at Washington and Lee's mock convention.

"No comment," she replied.

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