Utah and Mountain West Democratic leaders are lining up behind Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, getting on the train before it leaves the station.
It's the endorsement game. And here, Dukakis is definitely doing better in Utah than the only other Democrat left in the race, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.On the Republican side, also, big-name party people are joining the Vice President George Bush camp. That process, however, has been going on for several months, ever since Bush dealt Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., a death blow in the Super Tuesday primaries March 8.
In the Democratic corner, former Gov. Scott M. Matheson and his wife, Norma, recently endorsed Dukakis. So have Utah Democratic Chairman Randy Horiuchi; Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah both super delegates and Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson.
From Colorado, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico, current and former Democratic officeholders are now saying Dukakis is the one.
Matheson and other Utah Democrats were originally talking about going to the national convention uncommitted. While Utah has only 28 delegates in the 4,000-plus delegate convention, if other Mountain West states also went uncommitted, maybe the region could have some clout in selecting the party's presidential nominee.
But that reasoning went out the window as it became clear that Dukakis will be the nominee.
It is no secret that Matheson wants to be named Interior secretary should a Democrat win the White House. For him, the sooner he starts working for Dukakis' election, the better.
At one time, Matheson considered running against Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, this year. While he announced last spring that he wouldn't challenge Hatch, Hatch workers have been worrying for months that the Democrats might pick a presidential nominee not favorable to Matheson. If locked out of the Interior post, Matheson might re-think his Hatch challenge.
But, in his Dukakis support announcement, Matheson said he knows the governor fairly well, having worked with him when Matheson was chairman of the National Governors Association.
"If he wins and asks me (to be Interior secretary), I'll say yes," Matheson said smiling. Mrs. Matheson is national committeewoman for Utah. She also has endorsed Dukakis and will be one of his super delegates.
Former Democratic Gov. Calvin Rampton and Democratic Vice Chairman Elizabeth Willey are also super delegates. But they have not endorsed Dukakis yet, perhaps waiting to be courted in the national convention.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson also hasn't endorsed Dukakis. But there's politics, not personal ego, here.
Wilson doesn't want to offend the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Utah supporters. Wilson needs every vote, black, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, he can get against Gov. Norm Bangerter this year.
This isn't the time to be alienating anyone over an endorsement that, for Wilson, isn't as important as it is to Matheson and others.
Wilson will endorse Dukakis, says Pat Shea, Dukakis' Utah leader. It is just a matter of when.
Meanwhile, both parties hope to get their presidential candidates to Utah sometime this year.
The best bet for both Dukakis and Bush visits comes in June, when the National Conference of Mayors holds its annual meeting in Salt Lake City. It's a tradition that presidential candidates address the meeting. In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter and candidate Ronald Reagan addressed the conference in Seattle.