The bad news for Democrats is that they've squandered the presidential campaign of 1987. The good news is that the election isn't this year.

That's the verdict from state party leaders around the country, whose assessments of damage from the string of episodes that have already torpedoed two of the party's presidential hopefuls and wounded a third are more upbeat than those of Washington-based political operatives, consultants and campaign staffers.

"There are still plenty of good candidates left, and when the primaries start you're going to have winners and losers, and that's what people are going to focus on," said Peter Kelly, chairman of the California Democratic Party. "This will all be ancient history by then. Gary Hart already seems like ancient history now."

"It's a page 14 story in today's {New Orleans} Times-Picayune," Kathleen Vick, vice chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said of the resignations of the top two aides to Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis after disclosures of their connections to an "attack video" that led to the unraveling of Sen. Joseph R. Biden's candidacy. "There's no way it's a plus, but I don't think there's a holdover."

"There is a tendency among insiders to pay an awful lot of attention to inside campaign episodes, but the people in Michigan want to pay attention to things like jobs, education and health care," said Rick Wiener, Michigan Democratic chairman. "Insiders don't decide elections; voters do.

"Why should there be a cumulative effect from any of this," he continued, "when nobody asks whether there will be a cumulative effect from the scores and scores of Republicans who have been indicted, convicted or left office in dis- grace, accused of official wrongdoing?"

Their views were echoed in telephone interviews with state chairmen from Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.

But some voiced concern that the Democratic field has acquired a gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight aura that will make it more difficult for any of its number to capture the public's imagination during the next year.

"Because of what happen to Hart and Biden and now Dukakis, it increases the possibility for what I've thought would happen all along -- that some other candidate will come into the race late," said Raymond Durkin, New Jersey state chairman. Durkin said he plans to keep his options open by organizing an uncommitted slate for New Jersey's June 7 Democratic primary.

Sources close to the three politicians most often mentioned as potential late entrants -- New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley and Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn -- said yesterday that none of them are reconsidering their earlier decisions not to seek the nomination.

Republicans, predictably, were harsher about long-term fallout.

"I'll go with the Napoleonic dictum, 'Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself,' " chuckled

Lee Atwater, manager of Vice

President Bush's presidential campaign.

"There is a sense among the average voter that the Democrats don't have anybody running this year, that it's amateur hour in their party," said Haley Barbour, a former White House political aide. "Everything that's happened this year reinforces that, and I think it's a real handicap for them."

Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who divides his time between New Haven and Washington, said he thinks the rest of the country is treating the Dukakis episode with far less gravity than are political insiders here. But, he said, he nonetheless worries about a cumulative impact.

"Everything we've heard from the voters since Irangate is that they want their next leader to be someone who can manage things, who can stay in control. This series of events involving the Democrats calls into question whether the Democratic candidates as a group can provide that kind of leadership," he said.

Texas Democratic Chairman Robert Slagle said he is less troubled about the competence of his party's candidates than he is about the cynicism of the voters.

"These kinds of incidents just cheapen and diminish the whole political process, and they raise a cynicism barrier that probably hurts us more than the Republicans," he said. "We're the out party, we're the ones who need to get the attention of the voters, to make the case that we're fit to govern."

Many of the state leaders agreed with the assessment of Laurence Kirwan, chairman of the New York Democratic Party, that the flap over the preparation of the video by the Dukakis staff was "a tempest over not much . . . . It's a nonevent. The tape was of material in the public domain, and it was peripheral to Biden's decision anyway."

Others argued that Dukakis campaign manager John Sasso and political director Paul Tully showed poor judgment because they knew that Dukakis is quick to denounce negative campaigning by others, and because they "let him hang out to dry" when he held a news conference Monday and denied campaign involvement in the preparation of the tape.

But Kirwan said he believed that Dukakis had contained the damage. "Sasso and Tully have left, it's over and not an ongoing problem, and it doesn't reflect on the character of the candidate."

Greenberg concurred, saying the Biden and Hart episodes "reflected on the characters of the candidates. That's not the case here, it's not a character issue. Plus, I think Democratic activists all over the coutnry have an interest in containing this one, so you're not hearing a lot of people describing what happened in bombastic terms."

Few state leaders are. But few would demur from the view of Robert Beckel, Walter F. Mondale's 1984 campaign manager: "If the Democratic presidential campaign were a wine, let's just say that 1987 would not be considered a very good year."Staff writer James R. Dickenson contributed to this report.