Democratic governors, under pressure to produce a candidate for Democratic national chairman, are pressing former Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt to run for the post, but Goldschmidt said he is "selling sneakers . . . and loving it" and isn't certain he wants to return to Washington.
Led by Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, the governors have called a meeting for Dec. 16 in Kansas City, Kan., to unveil their choice for the DNC chairmanship. The governors plan to meet that day with leading Democratic state chairmen in hopes of presenting a consensus candidate to the party.
If Goldschmidt rejects the governors' call, the fallback choice as of now is former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, president of Duke University, party sources say.
But the governors recognize that, with six other candidates already running for party chairman, Sanford, 67, might have trouble winning, even with their support. As a result, they are seeking other names in case Goldschmidt says no.
But one person involved in the search process predicted yesterday that if Goldschmidt decides not to run, the governors and other elected officials would splinter, setting off a scramble for the job. In that case, they say, the favorite would be Paul G. Kirk Jr., DNC treasurer and a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Goldschmidt, now an executive with Nike Inc. in Portland, Ore., said late Thursday night that while the party leaders have been "fairly persuasive" in urging him to run, "the timing of it is just impossible."
He said that personal considerations made it difficult to say yes to the governors and that the reasons he and his family decided to move back to Portland, where he had served as mayor before taking over the Transportation Department, "are all in place."
Another complication for Goldschmidt is his interest in running for governor in Oregon in 1986, according to other Democrats.
He has agreed to make a decision this weekend.
Goldschmidt emerged as the governors' leading choice in a week when a variety of possible candidates were floated for consideration. The others included Texas Railroad Commissioner Buddy Temple; Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), who lost a bid to continue as chairman of the House Budget Committee; Rep. Buddy MacKay (D-Fla.); and former representative Jim Guy Tucker (D-Ark.).
The governors' effort to find a candidate has begun to draw criticism from other Democrats. "The Robb effort is beginning to look ridiculous," one Democrat said yesterday.
Babbitt has argued that the governors must conclude their search by early next week or else get out of the process.
Kirk and the other announced candidates appeared yesterday at a forum sponsored by the Illinois Democratic Party. The others are Robert Keefe, veteran political consultant; Nancy Pelosi, former California Democratic chairman; Duane B. Garrett, national co-chairman of the Mondale-Ferraro campaign; Sharon Pratt Dixon, DNC member from the District of Columbia; and former Nebraska representative John Cavanaugh.