Democratic Party strategists in Washington have sorted through the results of the caucuses and primaries conducted so far and have come to an intriguing but still unpublicized conclusion about their November ticket: The party's vice presidential candidate will be the key to victory.
This is their reasoning:
The Iowa caucuses and subsequent contests have narrowed the field, but none of the remaining contenders appears strong enough to carry the ticket alone. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massaschusetts are at the head of the pack for the time being, but have little momentum. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee has few delegates but is well financed and hoping for a big haul on "Super Tuesday" next week. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois has quit the South altogether and is hoping for enough northern support to give him a little muscle in the event of a brokered convention.
Our political consultants believe it will come down to a brokered affair. Jesse L. Jackson's respectable showing in Iowa, New Hamsphire and other state contests could therefore make him a kingmaker come July, when the party's directors and delegates gather in Atlanta to pick their team.
Such a free-for-all, the strategists told our associate Les Whitten, would demand the nomination of a presidential candidate from the heavily populated North and a vice presidential candidate who would be a "healer" -- one who would be able to win such key states as Texas and Florida, which together represent nearly one-tenth of the nation's electoral votes.
Minimal consideration would be given to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo because of his reluctance to get involved in the primaries. The resentment toward him among those who fought the battles would be palpable. This would make Dukakis the most reasonable alternative for president, the strategists say. The vice presidential candidate most appealing to the South would be Gore.
Gore has told friends that he considers the vice presidency a dead-end job and that he doesn't want it. At age 39 and with four years left in his Senate term, he says, he would wait for another clean shot at the top job. But depending on how things shake out between now and July, the strategists say, he might be persuaded to change his mind.
With a Dukakis-Gore ticket, insiders argue, both North and South would be represented, as would governors and Congress, liberals and moderate conservatives, ethnic Americans and pioneer stock.
There was a similar breadth on the 1960 ticket, when Lyndon B. Johnson brought the election home for John F. Kennedy, and in 1976, when Walter F. Mondale was crucial to Jimmy Carter's victory.
One Democratic wag put it to us this way: "Dukakis and Gore would be a perfect ticket -- if things would just stand still long enough for us to figure out how to bring it about."