Democratic elected officials today called off their search for a consensus candidate for Democratic national chairman after their two-week effort failed to produce agreement.
Instead, the governors, House members and party chairmen from about 30 states meeting here called for creation of a new policy council within the Democratic National Committee to help refurbish the party's image. Among those attending today's meeting, there was strong support for retiring Utah Gov. Scott M. Matheson to head the group.
Matheson was the first choice of a number of governors to become DNC chairman. When he decided several weeks ago not to enter the race, the elected officials, led by Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), set up a more formal search process. That effort came to a halt late last week when former transportation secretary Neil Goldschmidt told Gephardt he would not enter the race either.
"It was clear there is no single person who can command the support of all members of this group," House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.) said after the meeting broke up.
Today's action was seen as a face-saving effort on the part of the elected officials, who say they intend to remain more active in party affairs than in the past. "I think it was a good result," Gephardt said.
The governors' failure to find a candidate left the race for DNC chairman with six announced candidates. The 377-member DNC will meet Feb. 1 to pick a successor to Charles T. Manatt, whose term is expiring.
Two of the six candidates, Paul G. Kirk Jr., now DNC treasurer and a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Nancy Pelosi, former California Democratic chairman, each claim to have more than 100 commitments.
The other candidates are Robert J. Keefe, a veteran political operative; Duane B. Garrett, a California fund-raiser who served as national co-chairman of Walter F. Mondale's presidential campaign; former Nebraska representative John Cavanaugh; and Sharon Pratt Dixon, DNC member from the District of Columbia.
Robb said the effort to rally behind a single candidate "simply didn't mesh," but he said the elected officials had accomplished their purpose of becoming more involved in the party.
How the new policy council will differ from an earlier strategy council was not immediately clear.
Southern state chairmen today tried to enlist support for former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, now president of Duke University, but met resistance from party leaders outside the South.