Aides to President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are negotiating a possible Democratic National Convention compromise that would postpone for a day a major fight over convention rules in return for a peaceful settlement of most other convention disputes.
Sources in both of the Democratic campaigns said yesterday that Carter operatives are considering a proposal to reschedule the debate and vote over the rule that binds delegates to the candidate they were elected to represent until Aug. 12, the second day of the convention, as Kennedy desires.
In return, as the sources outline the possible compromise, the Kennedy forces would agree not to press most of the challenges they have filed to the proposed party platform, making the convention less time-consuming and divisive than it would be otherwise.
Negotiations over the details of such a compromise were a central topic at the meeting held last week between Carter asides Richard Moe and Hamilton Jordan, and Paul Kirk and Carl Wagner of the Kennedy staff. Similar meetings are planned in the next two weeks before the convention normally convenes Aug. 11 in New York City.
A Carter campaign official said yesterday that the Kennedy camp not only wants the rules fight to be rescheduled but is seeking additional time to debate the rules issue and a platform plank on the economy and unemployment. The objective of the Carter forces, he said, is "a smoothly running convention," which whould involve not only a reduction in the number of platform and other disputes but a "code of conduct" for the two sides aimed at ending the convention with a show of unity.
Kennedy is basing his long-shot quest for wresting the nomination from the president on the slim hope that he can win the rules fight and thereby set off a stampede of disenchanted Carter delegates to his side. His strategists want to put off the crucial rules test as long as possible, giving them the maximum time to lobby delegates in the supercharged atomosphere of a national political convention.
But the convention machinery is firmly in the control of White House and Carter campaign operatives, who have scheduled the rules fight as the first order of business on Monday, Aug. 11 and hope to have the issue settled before a prime-time television audience tunes into the proceedings that night.
The fact that the Carter campaign is considering a delay in the rules flight suggests the confidence among the president's advisers that they will prevail whenever the test comes. But it also demonstrates their fear that without some gesture of goodwill on their part, disgruntled Kennedy supporters could turn the rest of the convention into a bloody, nationally televised display of intraparty warfare stretching into the early morning hours every day of the convention.
Democratic National Committee Chairman John White, a firm supporter of the president who said he has not been privy to the negotiations, yesterday left the door open to the kind of compromise that is being discussed. y
"If all these other things can be compromised, then we can take another look at the schedule," he said.
White said that 22 minority reports to the platform, 18 of them by the Kennedy faction, have been filed with convention officials and he is openly concerned about the spectacle that will ensue on television if each is fought out to the bitter end.
"A convention is more than an opportunity for us to argue about the platform," he said. "It is the one opportunity for us to show the American people that this administration has a record and that it's a good one."
A Carter aide, acknowledging that he is opposed to the proposal, said the suggested compromise "to buy a little harmony" in New York at present is vague. "Can they deliver? Can they control their delegates?" Can they control their delegates?" he said.
The Carter aide said he opposed a delay in the rules fight because of the trouble this could cause on the first night of the convention when attention would be focused on the upcoming test the next evening. Pointing to the experience of the Republicans at their convention during the flurry over negotiatins to enlist former president Ford as Ronald Reagan's running mate, he said:
"We should learn from Detroit that the networks will show no restraint when it comes to exploiting whatever conflict is available to them."