Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb and a group of elected Democrats from across the country are trying to form an independent policy group that will help the Democratic Party project a more moderate image.
"It's a desire on the part of a number of elected officials to participate in party affairs . . . ," Robb said in an interview today. He is expected to announce formation of the new Democratic Leadership Council during a meeting of the nation's governors in Washington next week.
The group's organization drew criticism yesterday from other Democrats, including Paul G. Kirk, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Kirk wants to set up a similar group inside the DNC.
Kirk, who was meeting in Atlanta today with Southern state party chairmen, said he has "every reason to think we can work it out" when he meets with Robb on Tuesday. "It sounds as though our objectives are the same."
Other Democrats see the move as an attempt by Robb, the son-in-law of the late president Lyndon B. Johnson, to play a role in national politics after he leaves office in early 1986.
Robb rejected that assessment today, saying the council has the active support of "the emerging leadership" in the Congress, including Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, also is involved.
"I'm sure that as they think about it, solid citizens like Babbitt, Robb and Gephardt would abandon something that sounds like factionalism in the party," said Ted Van Dyk, a critic of the Robb group and director of the Center for National Policy, a Democratic study group.
Donald J. Foley, Gephardt's press secretary, conceded that the Robb group could be "potentially contradictory," but said it was not intended "to be set up at odds with the party."
Robb said the council, planned for several months, should not be seen as a criticism of Kirk. Robb and many of the same officials tried unsucessfully last year to put up a consensus candidate for chairman of the DNC, a post that ultimately went to Kirk. Robb had supported former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford.
Robb said many Democrats believe the national party, which suffered a major defeat with presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale last year, is too liberal and controlled by special-interest groups that are not accountable to the public.
That view "is true for some of those who are going to be financially supportive of this entity," Robb said. "It needs to be financially independent so it is not subjected to all of what I call the Noah's Ark approach -- all the requirements that every interest group caucus has be represented. It's principally for elected officials who are accountable for policy matters."
Kirk has said he intends to create a national policy council for the DNC made up of about 40 or 50 elected officials and businessmen, some of whom would be DNC members.
"We need these good folks and if they don't add their political and intellectual weight we won't make it," said Kirk. "It will give them a chance to correct what they don't like about the party. As the old saying goes, now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party."
He said he had not heard any of the details of Robb's proposal except for a brief mention of it during the recent DNC meeting at which Kirk was elected.
Kirk said the goal of his DNC national policy committee will be to draft in effect "a party platform that addresses all the issues in a changing world." He said he hopes that the policy council will be named and ready for the DNC's approval, probably in early June.