Due to an editing error, it was incorrectly reported in yesterday's early editions that the official caucuses of the Democratic National Committee were eliminated at a weekend meeting of Democratic state chairmen.
Democratic Party leaders concluded their first post-election meeting today with a short answer to the question of the party's future direction: back to middle America.
The state party chairmen, gathered at this sunny island resort to begin rebuilding in the wake of President Reagan's 49-state victory over Walter F. Mondale, agreed that the Democratic Party has lost its appeal among middle Americans.
They made clear that they think that the party's historic coalition has eroded and its geographical base is shrinking, that it has ignored for too long the growing sections of the country and that, while 1986 may look like a good year for the party, it can't afford to be complacent.
"These are no ordinary times for our party," said Duane B. Garrett, Mondale's national co-chairman.
"We face fundamental choices about our future," Garrett said. "Some seem to believe there's nothing wrong with the Democratic Party that a renewed recession won't cure. I disagree. Our problems go far deeper than Ronald Reagan's grin. We are being out-organized, out-spent and outflanked. We are losing our identity as the party of progress.
"If we pretend that all is well and go about our business as usual, we may well consign ourselves to minority status for the rest of this century."
If there was a lack of consensus, it was over who should succeed Charles T. Manatt as party chairman when his term expires in January.
Announced candidates for the post include Garrett; Sharon Pratt Dixon, DNC member from the District of Columbia; Paul G. Kirk Jr.; Robert J. Keefe, Nancy Pelosi and former representative John Cavanaugh (D-Neb.).
Others said to be interested in the job are retiring Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, retiring Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.).
For the most part, the state chairmen said they wanted to see if others get into the race.
"Too often the quick analysis says we have to find a new spokesman with a new message," said Jim Ruvolo, Ohio Democratic chairman. "It isn't one leader and . . . there isn't one message that's going to be our savior. We've been letting the Republican Party frame every single debate."
Many of the state chairmen saw state and local candidates swept under in the Reagan tidal wave, but there was a notable lack of Mondale-bashing among them -- a sign of Mondale's ties to Democratic Party regulars and of the concerted effort by some Democratic National Committee officials not to turn the meeting into a gripe session.
But they agreed that what Democrats have been selling, the American people have not been buying, at least at the presidential level. They agreed that refashioning the party's image must begin with a program that emphasizes economic growth and opportunity and that the decade-long attention to internal party problems must give way to winning back the support of the middle class.
"Technically and organizationally, the party's in good shape," said Dick Lodge, the Democratic chairman from Tennessee. "The problem is the public's perception of the Democrats. The perception is that we are the party that can't say no, that caters to special interests and that does not have the interests of middle America at heart."
"We must move our party to the center, the economic center," Dixon said. "We have to become the party of growth. The New Deal wasn't about social welfare; it was economic welfare. People came to our party because of economic prosperity."
At Friday's opening session, the state chairmen heard a bleak assessment of the 1984 election from pollster William Hamilton. He warned that while Democrats appeared to have confined their losses to the presidential level, the subsurface trends were disturbing.
Republicans, he said, won 54 percent of the vote in contested congressional races, carried young voters and first-time voters and made rotentially significant inroads on party identification.
Hamilton told the chairmen that the old Democratic coalition has broken up and that the party hasn't found a way to talk to an emerging coalition.
"Our Victrola seems to be stuck on Tommy Dorsey or Bill Haley and the Comets," he said. "People are drifting next door to where they have a satellite feed and the most recent concerts."
But John Perkins, who heads the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE), warned Democrats not to act hastily. "Let's wait until the dust settles before deciding what happened in 1984," he said.
Organized labor is "not going to be stampeded into anything, one way or the other," Perkins added.
Democrats here agreed they have no overall theme for reaching unaffiliated voters because of the Balkanization of the party as it sought to appeal to blacks or women or union workers or gays. There was enough consensus on this point that some Democrats talked about eliminating the various official caucuses within the DNC.
Kirk said the approach of the Democrats has been, "Got a cause, get a caucus."
"As a result, white male Americans say, 'Do we have to have a caucus to have a vote in the party?' Enough is enough," he said.
Pelosi said Democrats "must have a basic, fundamental attitude of addressing people as individual, not as groups."
Democrats here said they have spent so much time worrying about party rules that they have lost sight of real problems.
"For 16 years, we've had the binoculars on backwards," said Keefe, a veteran party operative.
The new Fairness Commission drew fire. The commission was created after complaints by Jesse L. Jackson and Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) that the party's nominating rules were deliberately shaped to help Mondale. The commission is to review those rules for 1988.
But Democrats here said they have no taste for turning the commission into another battleground for 1988 presidential candidates.
"We don't need to spend the next two years rewriting the rules," said Ann Lewis, DNC political director. "We need to spend the next two years learning how to talk to voters."
David Price, North Carolina Democratic chairman, was staff director for the Hunt Commission, which wrote the 1984 rules. He said some changes are necessary but argued that internally and externally the party has begun to move back to the center.