Tsongas in Suspension

March 20, 1992

Paul Tsongas displayed his trademark self-deprecating wit and realistic earnestness yesterday as he "suspended" his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He said he did not have the money to "fight the media wars in New York." Thus he and his message would be overshadowed -- or even misdefined -- by Gov. Bill Clinton, whose campaign chest is bulging.

It is discomforting to see the importance of campaign finance stated so starkly, but it is a fact of political life. As Mr. Tsongas said, "money is the mother's milk of politics." It always has been. It also has always been a fact of political life that winners attract money. The reason Governor Clinton is flush and Mr. Tsongas is not is that Mr. Clinton has proven himself to be a very successful voter-getter -- running against Mr. Tsongas.

Mr. Tsongas said he had trouble raising money last year, but then, "saved by the message," began to raise enough to compete. We wish that were true, because we like his message of accepting a little short term discomfort to achieve long term growth and prosperity. But we believe that what put his candidacy over the top in a few primary states, including Maryland, was not his message nearly so much as it was the so-called Clinton scandals. Charges of marital infidelity, draft avoidance and financial conflicts of interest against Mr. Clinton "saved" Mr. Tsongas' campaign for the few weeks it took the Arkansas governor to recover.

Perhaps in a message to Jerry Brown, Mr. Tsongas said he does not want to be a "spoiler" candidate, "to be the agent of the re-election of George Bush." That is refreshing. Democrats have been bedeviled by spoiler candidates in the last four presidential nomination campaigns.

It is also in the ex-senator from Massachusetts' own best interest to avoid a big defeat in neighboring New York and Connecticut. Either would spoil any chance he might have of being the man the convention turned to in July if some future turn of events forced Governor Clinton from the race. Surely that is part of the reason he is "suspending" -- not "quitting" -- and keeping his delegates "intact [so] they can go to the convention."

Even in losing, Mr. Tsongas demonstrated that he has his own national constituency. It is mostly suburban, better educated, well-to-do. Some Republicans and Independents were attracted to him because of his style, his character and, yes, his message. These are voters Bill Clinton, who now must be regarded as the presumptive presidential nominee, will need in November. When we endorsed Paul Tsongas last month, we said we found him to be "someone special." We still think so. At a time when "politician" is an epithet, we hope that this is not the end of his political life.

Perhaps the vice presidential slot?

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