Political strategists for former president Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) agreed here this weekend that the courtship of individual constituencies by Democratic presidential aspirants may prevent the party from winning the White House in 1984.
Speaking to the Association of State Democratic Chairs, former White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan and William Carrick, Kennedy's political director, outlined contrasting electoral strategies for defeating President Reagan should he choose to run for reelection.
But they both argued that until the Democratic Party finds a message designed to appeal to a broad cross-section of American voters, the Democratic nominee will face an uphill contest.
"If the 1984 primaries are dominated exclusively by candidates responding to the demands of interest groups, it won't make much difference who is the nominee," Jordan said. "There will be no way for our party and our nominee to reach the average voter."
Carrick said, "We have got to develop a universal message to appeal to the American people as individuals and not as part of special interest groups."
The difficulty of defeating Reagan next year was a constant topic of conversation among the state party leaders gathered here. And the message from Jordan and Carrick about constituencies was well received by many of them.
"I have felt for a long time that we have become a party of special interests. And until we become a party of Democrats again, we'll have trouble winning elections," said Dorothy Zug, Democratic vice chairman in Pennsylvania. "Our old traditional base looks at us and wonders if there's a place for them."
But the problem was summed up best by Suellen Albrecht of Wisconsin, who noted that appeals to various constituencies such as blacks, labor, women, environmentalists and gays are essential for a candidate to win the Democratic nomination. She asked how the Democratic nominee could then ignore those constituencies in the general election.
"You need them," Jordan said. "But they only add up to a portion of the electorate. So if the whole nominating campaign is to bid for them, the American people will see that. All I'm asking for is a heavy dose of pragmatism."
In a recent issue of the New Republic, Jordan says former vice president Walter F. Mondale suffers from his ties to various constituency groups and urges Mondale to take a public stand in opposition to one or more of them.
Jordan said here that he believes Mondale should "go to AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland and say, 'I want labor's help but not the endorsement.' " Mondale is the current favorite to receive the official support of organized labor, which may endorse a candidate later this year.
While many of the state party officials here agreed with the Jordan and Carrick analysis of the problem of individual constituencies, there were dissenters.
"I think it's a fallacious argument," said Ann Campbell of New Jersey. "But that was the biggest problem of the Carter administration; they couldn't deal with constituencies."
"We're the Democratic Party," said Peter Kelly, California Democratic chairman. "We're the party of minorities and women and labor. We're also the party of middle- income Americans."
The state party leaders who came to New Mexico's picturesque capital for four days of meetings and Mexican food agreed that Mondale has the lead for the Democatic nomination, not only in the polls but also in the strength of his organizations in various states. But there was some sentiment that he may have trouble holding on to that lead.
At the same time, there appeared to be growing interest in the candidacy of Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio).
A number of state chairmen from different regions said that they believe Glenn may have more potential than Mondale to defeat Reagan in their states, despite Glenn's slow start in developing state organizations. "I think he's a winner," said Henry Topel, former Delaware Democratic chairman and a Glenn supporter.
Glenn was here today. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, he made a favorable impression on the party leaders at a brunch at the governor's mansion.
It was his first chance to meet with the state chairmen's group and with the Democratic National Committee's Business Council since the release of a number of national polls showing that he is now challenging Mondale for the front-runner's position.
Glenn said that while he takes little notice of a single poll, "When you have a number of them, it is meaningful." He attributed his rise to the time that he has spent campaigning throughout the country over the past several months and to the impact of other polls showing that he would beat Reagan if the election were held now.
In their remarks earlier at the meetings, Jordan and Carrick offered sharply different electoral strategies for 1984.
Jordan, as he has done frequently this spring, argued on behalf of a southern strategy that would emphasize a conservative approach on some issues.
"I'm not talking about a southern strategy, but the southern reality," Jordan said, noting that Democrats need the South because since World War II they have had little success winning the West.
Carrick, by contrast, sketched an novel approach based on the unemployment rate in various states and pointed out that in the 1982 midterm elections Democrats made impressive gains in areas of high unemployment.
He said that 26 states currently have unemployment rates of 10 percent or more. Those states have 285 electoral votes, 15 more than the number needed to win the presidency.
Only three of the 26, he said, are dependably Democratic, while three other states the Democrats have come to rely upon--New York, Maryland and Massachusetts--are not among the 26 because their jobless rates are below 10 percent.
Of the 26 states, he said, seven are in the South, eight in the West, four in the East and seven in the Midwest.
"Ronald Reagan is giving us the opportunity to build an electoral coalition that is new," Carrick said. "We need an industrial and jobs policy that meets the test of boldness and originality."