ATLANTA, JULY 20 -- The South is where Democrats next year must topple the perception that they have lost touch with mainstream America, Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. said.

Speaking exactly one year before party delegates meeting here select a presidential nominee, Kirk said the March 8 "Super Tuesday" primaries and the 1988 convention here offer an opportunity for Democratic candidates to tap "the values and voices of the South."

In a speech delivered at City Hall, Kirk lamented that Democrats have had continual success in local, state and congressional elections in the South, but have come up short in presidential races, where voters have leaned toward Republican candidates.

"I hope those who are listening today will record it as a sign of political maturity for the national Democratic Party to acknowledge that there have been too many good, solid Democrats of the South who have split the ticket in recent national elections," Kirk said.

Kirk said the party must appeal to broad national interests and shake its reputation for being controlled by special-interest groups.

"It's a perception which, in voting terms, is as good as reality," Kirk said following the speech.

He cautioned against regarding Super Tuesday as a regional event, saying southern voters "will respond to the party and the candidate with the strongest call to national purpose and national interest."

But, he added, "the Democratic Party will prevail nationally in 1988 only if it is truly competitive in America's South. And before expecting the voters of the South to respond to the national Democratic Party next November, I believe the Democratic Party must first listen to the voters of the South between now and then."

Voters are calling for jobs and job training, an efficient national security system, small business incentives, a competitive economy and pragmatic policies for joint public and private initiatives in education, affordable housing and health care, Kirk said.

"The cherished principles of the Democratic Party cannot embody a single issue," he said. "A majority candidate has never won and no president can successfully govern from an agenda or with policies seen as elitist, or extreme or bound to rigid ideologies or narrow interests."