Mondale's hard-won truimph

Michael Poser July 30 1984

Mondale's hard-won truimph

Michael Poser July 30 1984

Mondale's hard-won truimph


Michael Poser

After his defeat as President Jimmy Carter’s running mate in the 1980 election, former vicepresident Walter Modal?s and a few close friends began plotting a strategy for winning the Democratic party’s 1984 presidential nomination. Walter Frederick (Fritz) Modal?s’ long and urduoust odyssey ended triumphantly in San Francisco last week amid 35,000 delegates, guests and journalists. The 56year-old liberal Democrat, a Methodist preacher’s son from a tiny town in rural Minnesota (Elmo, population 744), claimed his expected first-ballot victory at the party’s convention over two determined opponents—Senator Gary Hart (Colon.) and Rev. Jesse Jackson. That decision, giving Modal?s the right to challenge President Ronald Reagan for the Oval Office in the Nov. 6 election, ended a fierce, often bitter fight. But by the close of the convention, Jackson and Hart reaffirmed their unconditional support for Modal, and the party was poised to cast Ronald Reagan as a paresis-

dent of the privileged. The Democratic convention also sealed another nomination—Mondale’s choice of a woman, New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro—which has forever changed the landscape of American politics.

After a brief vacation in Minnesota fishing country this week, Mondale begins campaigning with his precedentshattering choice for running mate. For their part, delegates and voters were getting accustomed to the idea of a coed ticket. Political analysts foresaw some pitfalls in this process, recommending that the team, especially Mondale, should be careful in relating to each other. Said Democratic pollster Patrick Cadell: “Mondale cannot, whatever he does, kiss her.” Added political consultant Frank Mankiewicz: “They will have to go slowly. Their spouses should always be present.” Looking beyond that hurdle, Ferraro, the unanimous vicepresidential nominee, told 4,000 delegates jammed into the George R. Moscone Convention Center and millions more watching on television: “By choosing an American woman to run for our

nation’s second-highest office, you send a powerful signal to all Americans. There are no doors we cannot unlock.” Then, on behalf of Móndale and herself, she promised the ecstatic delegates: “We will win. We will win.” Mondale, gazing out across the navy-hued sea of placard-wavers, added: “We are fighting for the American future, and that’s why we are going to win.”

Both Jackson and Hart vowed allegiance to the Mondale-Ferraro ticket, allowing the often-fractious and fragmented Democrats to claim at least a patina of party unity. Hart pledged to devote “every waking hour and every ounce of energy” to unseating Reagan, calling that goal “a moral imperative.” Even before the dimensions of Mondale’s win were clear, Hart paraphrased crooner Tony Bennett’s classic lyric, saying, “This is one heart you won’t leave in San Francisco.”

Jackson, whose mercurial campaign made him the undisputed heir to the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s mantle of black leadership, echoed those sentiments. But there was skepticism among

veteran party supporters. Many Democrats fear that Hart loyalists—younger, better-educated, more independent voters—will behave in November as current polls suggest, by deserting the party ticket for the Reagan camp. As for Jackson, his insistent demands for black power in Congress, in state legislatures and in the party’s highest policy-making councils may represent too steep a political price for Mondale to pay.

Yet in some respects, Mondale’s bruising path to the nomination enhanced his stature. In a 25-year political career based largely on unelected appointments—to the Minnesota attorney-general’s office, to the U.S. Senate and to the vice-presidency under Carter —Mondale had never had to wage the kind of gritty campaign that Hart’s primary onslaught compelled from him. But Hart’s stunning upset wins in New England, Florida and the Midwest forced Mondale to abandon his cautionfirst approach. He still remained the same sober, “what you see is what you get” politician, with the wry, self-deprecating sense of humor—“the charismatic Norwegian,” as satirist Mark Russell dubbed him. But he added a new dimension to that profile: Fighting Fritz, prepared to slug it out toe to toe. In the spring his newfound aggression helped bring Mondale back from the brink of political extinction.

In San Francisco, as the convention began, Mondale’s coronation seemed as predictable as the morning fog shrouding the Golden Gate Bridge. He had

more than enough delegates to secure his first-ballot win, which came at 1:10 a.m. EDT, when 115 of New Jersey’s votes put him over the top. His campaign team had drawn rave reviews for its hard-nosed professionalism. And the historic selection of Ferraro, the straight-talking, three-term Queens congresswoman, lawyer and housewife, had in one master stroke energized the party.

But on the eve of the convention, Móndale inexplicably burst his own news balloon with an abortive bid to oust party Chairman Charles Manatt and replace him with Georgia banker Bert Lance, a Mondale crony and former budget director in the Carter White House who resigned in 1977 amid allegations of bank fraud. Móndale and his inner circle of advisers based their decision to fire Manatt on three factors: lack of confidence in the lacklustre California lawyer; a desire to install a Mondale ally in the top party job; and a recognition that naming a northeastern woman as vicepresidential candidate required the campaign to pay its dues to party stalwarts in the South.

But Mondale clearly miscalculated. Manatt, more popular than some believed, rallied support from key officials. Some simply deplored Mondale’s bad timing—in dismissing Manatt on the eve of his own convention as well as obscuring the nationwide glow from Ferraro’s appointment. Others questioned the need for any change. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Glenn

Watts, president of the Mondale-backing Communications Workers of America union. Many Democrats simply believed that Lance’s liabilities outweighed his assets. In 1979 Lance was indicted on 22 counts of bank fraud in Georgia. The court cleared him, but the aura of scandal remained.

The outcry forced Mondale into hasty retreat. He restored Manatt as titular chairman, although with diminished responsibilities, and appointed Lance general chairman of the Mondale-Ferraro campaign. Jackson called the whole affair a fiasco, and Mondale himself conceded with humor: “This wasn’t handled very well for two reasons. One, because it wasn’t and two, because it’s obvious it wasn’t.” Less obviously, the Mondale camp moved to prevent further miscues. In rounds of early-morning caucuses, using banks of telephones and delegatetracking computers, the campaign lobbied vigorously to maintain Mondale’s first-ballot support. Any slippagethreatened by Hispanics over the Simpson-Mazzoli bill to reduce illegal immigration, now before Congress, and by blacks as an emotional vote of conscience for Jackson—might have precipitated a Hart surge. Móndale and Ferraro made personal appearances before both the black and Hispanic caucuses and, in the end, the erosion was marginal.

Mondale’s troops were equally effective in beating back minority platform planks. Negotiating around the clock, Mondale officials conceded one contest

to Hart, approving language that would commit a Democratic president not to use U.S. military force “where our objectives are not clear.” In return, Hart agreed to vote against Jackson-sponsored planks that urged sharp cuts in the defence budget and the abolition of the runoff primary system in the South. Jackson had argued that the voting mechanism denied blacks their legitimate share of political power.

Jackson lost another platform skirmish when he attempted to get the party to decry the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States and achieved a bare standoff with Mondale on the controversial affirmative action quotas issue. Indeed, Jackson’s failure to win significant concessions last week raised the

threat that he might make a confrontational speech to the convention.

Instead, the passionate black leader delivered a tub-thumping address the like of which few American political gatherings in memory have heard. For 51 soul-searing minutes, Jackson intoned the powerful rhythmic cadences familiar to Baptist revival congregations. He touched all the key bases, all the important themes and offered an almost abject apology for remarks during his campaign that might have given offence. Asking forgiveness, especially from American Jewish leaders, who have accused Jackson of anti-Semitism, he added, “Charge it to my head, not my heart.” But Jewish spokesmen welcomed the speech cautiously. “The rift is not over,” said Lee Fisher, a state senator from Ohio. “One speech does not solve everything.” Yet Fisher, like dozens of tearful delegates of all colors, was visibly moved by Jackson’s oratory.

Still, Jackson himself acknowledged

after the vote that the party had insufficiently rewarded him for his efforts. When some members of the black caucus booed Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader, because she had opposed abolition of the dual primary system, Jackson’s own eyes welled with tears. He admonished his brethren: “She deserves the right to be heard.” But then, in a peroration that stirred the caucus to wild applause, he added: “You’re mad because you came out here and the women won the vice-presidency, and the South got Bert Lance, and New York had Gov. Cuomo’s keynote address, and Manatt got the DNC [Democratic National Committee]. And you ain’t got nothing.”

What role Jackson will play in the fall

campaign remains unclear. Many Móndale advisers view Jackson as a political albatross. They particularly fear the loss of Jewish support if Jackson is allowed to be centrally involved in the campaign. But Jackson may be unwilling simply to serve as the catalyst for black-voter registration.

Hart’s future, too, seems in doubt. Most observers read his convention speech as the opening volley in his 1988 presidential bid, but his immediate problem is to retire a huge personal debt accumulated during the 1984 primaries and retain his Colorado seat in the Senate. Moreover, keynote speaker Cuomo established himself as an early favorite for the 1988 nomination—if Mondale loses this year—by delivering a withering attack on the policies of the Reagan administration. But Cuomo also appealed to the party’s factions to put aside partisan differences and unite. He declared: “We will have no chance if what comes out of this convent-

ion is a babel of arguing voices.” Cuomo’s unity warning seemed to have gone unheeded. The dual primary issue had divided blacks because in some southern cities, where they comprise a majority, the runoff election actually works in their favor. But where blacks represent a minority, elections in which three candidates all fail to receive a majority vote often work to their detriment. In such votes, the candidate with the lowest percentage is forced out of the race, and the remaining candidates hold the second, runoff vote. At that point, Jackson maintains, the white majority coalesces to defeat the blacks. The Hispanic caucus held two stormy sessions. It was united in its opposition to the immigration bill—which it fears will cause discrimination by employers against Latinos—but deeply divided about whether Móndale and Ferraro are doing enough to defeat it. For their part, homosexual delegates wondered what the party’s new emphasis on family values might mean for their own, quite separate agenda.

Mondale’s daunting task now is somehow to inspire the unity that has eluded the party for so many years. That j ob will be more difficult because Democrats around the country take a far more conservative view on most questions than the delegates they send to conventions. As a recent ABC -Washington Post

poll reported, some 46

per cent of Democrats support a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortions, whereas only nine per cent of last week’s delegates did so. Again, while only one-fifth of the delegates agreed that Washington should take all steps, including force, to curb the spread of communism, two-thirds of rank-andfile Democrats backed that proposition.

It is the conventional wisdom that these internal schisms are so profound that Mondale will scarcely be able to repair them, let alone defeat Reagan. Said a Reagan campaign aide: “It’s the most liberal ticket the Democratic par? ty has ever nominated. There is no uncertainty about our political strategy.” But Mondale’s performance this year has demonstrated that he, like the president, is not a politician to underestimate. Early on in the campaign, a confident Gary Hart said of his chief opponent: “Mondale is mush.” Mondale has proven the contrary once. Against all the odds, he must now do so again.