ATLANTA,JUNE 22 -- More than 200 Democratic elected officials and party leaders held a "Super Tuesday Summit" here today to focus attention on a problem they don't necessarily agree exists.
The daylong forum organized by the Democratic Leadership Council, a 2-year-old group of elected officials mostly from the South and West, was designed to explore how the party can prevent its nominating contest from degenerating into "an unprincipled bidding war for the support of activists and pressure groups," said former Virginia governor Charles S. Robb, the DLC chairman.
Robb took special aim at the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary -- the two traditional nomination kickoff events -- with a warning that these small state contests, in which only about 100,000 Democratic voters participate. They should not be permitted to dictate the content of the Democrats' message because, "the outcome is heavily influenced by a small number of political operatives and activists, whose ability to deliver votes enables them to impose litmus tests on candidates," Robb said.
Robb and other speakers called for the party's candidates to tailor their platforms to the electorate that will vote on Super Tuesday (March 8, 1988) when 20 states, 14 of them in the South or on its border, will select 35 percent of all delegates to the national convention.
But Robb declined to say whether any of the current Democratic field of seven active candidates have fallen into the special-interest trap.
DLC Director Alvin From said the group is "trying to provide a counterpoint to pressures arising out of Iowa that if unchecked, will create a leftward tilt in the democratic defense agenda."
The field of seven Democrats already tends left of center on foreign policy issues. They are also spending record numbers of campaign days in Iowa, with two of the founders of the DLC -- Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt investing most heavily in a "breakout" strategy in that state.
Only one potential Democratic candidate has said he is prepared to skip Iowa and perhaps bypass New Hamphsire -- Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga). But Nunn is not yet prepared to be a candidate. He said he was leaning 60-40 against running and would decide by Labor Day.
Three active candidates were on hand here today -- Jesse L. Jackson, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.). And they differed over tax policy and Persian Gulf strategy during a question-and-answer session in a town hall-style meeting.
Gore said "we cannot rule out new revenue as part of the answer" to the federal budget deficit and added that he preferred progressive forms of taxation -- e.g. taxing income -- over regressive ones, such as an excise tax or oil import fee.
Biden ruled out an income tax inrease, arguing that Democrats would lose their political "credibility" were they to tinker with the rates so soon after enacting a major tax overhaul. He called instead for taxes on cigarettes and liquor and an oil import fee.
Jackson said he would not "rule out" a tax increase, noting, "We must dream the right dreams, but we must put focus on how to pay for them."
On the Persian Gulf, only Gore supported the Reagan administration's plan to put U.S. flags on Kuwaiti oil tankers and provide a military escort. Biden said the administration has "overreacted" and that it would be a "serious mistake" to proceed without more assistance from allies. Jackson said the United States should "not act unilaterally" and should concentrate more on bringing about a cease-fire in the war between Iran and Iraq.
Jackson, who once dubbed the DLC the "Democrats of the Leisure Class," struck a far more conciliatory tone today. "The party has a progressive wing and it has a conservative wing, but it takes two wings to fly," he said.