Nos since the old McGovern Talent Search for vice president in 1972 has the Democratic Party had such a confusing time trying to recruit a willing, able and -- here's the perennial rub -- acceptable person to be a new national chairman. We're assuming, of course, that the Democrats do mean chairman, that the term "chair" has been tabled regardless of who might come to the aid of their party. There are those who would leap at the chance, as they have for years. But the last thing a weary party needs is more tired blood. Recasting is the name of the game, though in what direction no one seems too sure. Still, as Walter Mondale once said to Bert Lance, timing is of the essence.

The saddest search for new national party chairman has been conducted by the Democratic governors, who may as well take out a classified ad: "Wanted -- place for party, lg. w/ open vu of old mainstream." For a variety of reasons -- mostly no's from people they have approached -- the governors are down to their eighth or ninth choices. So far, outgoing and retiring elected officials prefer being just that. Even the governors' latest favorite, former transportation secretary Neil Goldschmidt, now an executive with Nike Inc., seems to prefer selling running shoes to running the party. And party rules don't allow anyone now holding elective office to become chairman. The rules, Lord knows, are subject to change at any moment, but that's another awful story. There are state party chairmen, too, but at least one of these has said he isn't interested.

The trouble with all this is that the party leaders' preoccupation with internal politics does not cut a whole lot of ice with voters -- people who don't consider themselves "card-carrying Democrats" or for that matter don't consider themselves "members" of any party. They may not even claim kinship to the disparate special interests that jockey for party position all the time. So forget those interests. Find someone who can say, "Damn the caucuses, full speed ahead."