Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), who ran for president in 1976 with wit and grace, and lost, yesterday announced with wit and grace that he would not run in 1984--and wound up a winner in the eyes of his audience and his supporters.
A National Press Club luncheon crowd treated Udall to a standing ovation after he treated them to a string of laughs and good times, as he reminisced about past campaign snafus, spoke of current fiscal realities, and gibed at the Reagan administration and his fellow Democrats--and himself.
He mentioned only once his present battle against Parkinson's disease, saying that his doctors had assured him his case was mild and "presents no barrier to making the race."
But time and money are reasons for not running, he said. And so, he added, is the fact that he finds himself philosophically in tune with the "progressive" Democrats who are already in the race.
"I have concluded, therefore, that at this time I shall not actively seek the nomination of my party for president of the United States," he said. "It's obvious to me that to come in at this point means that I would be a day late and maybe several dollars short. To get in now would require a budget of several million dollars . . . and I just finished paying off the bills for 1976."
Laughingly, he allowed as how he would, of course, accept a draft. But in reality, at age 60, Udall had just taken his leave of presidential politics.
Before going to the press club, Udall telephoned the Democrats who have already begun their runs for the presidency, to tell them of his decision.
He also explained his reasoning to Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who like Udall has been in the limbo of deciding whether or not to run. Bumpers had just got back from a quick trip to Iowa, where, according to party sources, he had a private luncheon with former senator and governor Harold Hughes and several other elected officials. His spokesman said Bumpers has yet to decide.
Udall, meanwhile, let his luncheon audience, which included several congressional colleagues, know what it is like to be out there early, running for president. He recalled the time in 1976 when he stopped in at a barbershop in New Hampshire, walked up to a couple of men who were whittling, stuck out his hand and said: "Mo Udall--running for president."
"Yes, we know," one replied. "We were just laughing about it."
Udall told them about working the crowd in a Boston hotel, trying to shake every hand, when he grabbed one fellow's paw and said, "Hi, I'm Mo Udall, and I'd like your vote." And when he looked at the man it was Sen. Birch Bayh, a fellow candidate who replied: "You're my second choice."
And he regaled them about that day of multiple indignities in Sacramento.
First he missed his own airport arrival ceremony because his plane landed at the wrong airport--"and they don't have that many airports in Sacramento." Then he went to the local hotel and was put up in "The Gerald R. Ford Suite."
Then came word that the new governor, Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., would not see him until 11 p.m., and as he left the governor's office, he saw Jimmy Carter waiting to go in. That finally brought him consolation because, he told himself:
"Udall, you may be a long shot . . . but that is one fellow who is going to be out of it quickly!"
Now that he is bowing out of presidential politicking, Udall said, he will devote himself to two objectives:
"I want to lead a new effort to write a clean campaign law" to limit the influence of the special interests; and "I want to help put an end to the Reagan administration, whose policies are wrecking this country."
He said he still hopes to stand as a favorite son candidate from Arizona in 1984.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who earlier dropped out of the race--but only for 1984--issued a statement praising Udall for a graceful statement, and added:
"Speaking on the basis of my recent experience, let me say that Mo will find that it's really a rather enjoyable status to be a non-candidate in 1984."
Udall had twitted Kennedy during his luncheon address. One candidate is already working on the 1988 presidential campaign, Udall said:
"And I want to be considered for 1992."