For two days in Cleveland this week, moderate Democrats honed their message by fine-tuning a set of policy resolutions intended to move the party toward a tax-cutting, tight-budget, trim-the-entitlements domestic policy far removed from its traditional liberal posture.

But they left town no closer to finding someone to carry that message into the 1992 presidential primaries than they were the day they came.

The roughly 800 delegates to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) convention barely roused themselves to occasional handclapping as the prospective contenders closest to their philosophy took turns at the podium. Former senator Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, who has declared his candidacy, and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who is exploring the idea, came and went without causing a ripple.

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), who advocated a national health plan that owes more to Harry S. Truman than to any revisionist philosopher, stirred less interest in the auditorium than he did in the press room, where he seemed to open the door to a 1992 candidacy.

Yesterday, however, aides were busy dampening any speculation that Rockefeller had actually decided to run. "He's not a candidate and he doesn't plan to be a candidate," said Laura Quinn, his press secretary. "He just hasn't closed the door on perhaps doing it later on."

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (Tenn.), who was the favorite for 1992 of many arriving delegates, probably made few new converts by putting his nose in the text of an almost themeless speech and delivering it in a wooden manner that reminded many listeners why he faltered in his first presidential bid in 1988.

Based on interviews with the delegates, oratorical honors for the meeting went to House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. But Gephardt, the DLC's first chairman back in 1985, showed how far he had moved from that philosophical base by delivering a rousing, populist address featuring a long section of Japan-bashing that appeared to put him much closer to the AFL-CIO than to the free-traders in the DLC.

That left Clinton, the current DLC chairman, as virtually the only politician who packaged the group's philosophy in what sounded to the delegates like an effective stump speech. Despite a reputation as a long-winded bore that dates from his interminable nominating speech for Michael S. Dukakis at the 1988 convention, Clinton has dazzled DLC delegates at the last two gatherings in New Orleans and Cleveland.

"He gave a dynamic speech. I sat there in wonderment because it was not the Governor Clinton I have seen," said Raymond Buckley, a New Hampshire state representative.

Said Joseph Baerlein, a veteran Massachusetts political consultant, "That's a guy who could do well in New England."

Swayed by the praise -- and perhaps by seeing the indifferent reaction to other potential challengers -- Clinton has let some elasticity into his reelection campaign promise to serve out his current term as governor.

"I'm still where I was," he said. "I'm not running . . . . If I change that position, I will have to do it only after some extensive conversations with people at home, because they are my employers.

"I'm encouraged that so many people here say, 'I want you to run,' " he added, "but I'd only do it if I thought the people at home were supportive and really wanted me to."

Some supporters suggested in Cleveland that if Clinton decided to seek the presidency, he might turn the governor's job over to Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, a former congressman and attorney general. Asked about this, Clinton said, "He's clearly capable of being governor . . . . If there weren't someone of that capability, I couldn't even talk to you this much about doing it {running for president}."

Betsey Wright, Clinton's longtime campaign manager and now Arkansas Democratic chairman, and other advisers said he was far from having decided and is acutely conscious of his lack of credentials in foreign policy.

As for Tsongas, Cleveland was no breakthrough. He was warmly praised by his former colleague, Sen. John Glenn (Ohio), but Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), a Yale law school classmate, said, "We agree on a lot, but I don't think he can go from where he is to the presidency. I think he'll be another Bruce Babbitt -- welcomed for his ideas and his good humor, but not nominated."

State Rep. Richard Moore of Massachusetts said, "What I'm hearing here is the same as I hear at home. People admire him for his ideas and his ethics and his courage in coming back from cancer. But you have to be able to communicate. If Mario Cuomo had his ideas, or he had Mario Cuomo's ability to communicate -- boy, what a candidate!"