CHRISTMAS, CAMPAIGNS TAKE TIME

It's time to think about this year's Christmas shopping and the 1988 U.S. presidential elections.

Both the Christmas shopping season and the election campaigns need to be longer than most people seem to believe.Let me tell you something about myself by way of explaining those statements.

Christmas couldn't come early enough for me when I was a child. Like most kids, even one day was too long to wait before I could open my presents.

Of course, most adults knew better: The Christmas season was too long. As I got older I agreed with them - for a while.

Years later, it dawned on me that the Christmas shopping season was all too short. I was working full-time, often into the evenings. So sometimes there were only eight or 10 shopping days during the four or five weeks between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas: the weekends.

I had the same change of heart during the last presidential election campaign: I realized that, contrary to conventional wisdom, U.S. presidential campaigns don't drag on too long.

Various suggestions pop up in every campaign for supposedly better ways to manage and shorten them. Fortunately, they never get anywhere.

One regular proposal is for regional primaries: Hold one for the six New England states, one for the Middle Atlantic, one for the South, one for the Midwest, the Rocky Mountain states and the West.

This would only homogenize the primaries. The candidates would tend to submerge the very important differences between, say, Vermont and Massachusetts, or Florida and Georgia, or Oregon and California. The candidates need time to win the hearts and minds of people in every state. Most states have regions of their own. The present primary system serves that purpose well.

This is no small, homogenous country.

And don't believe the myth that British campaigns last only a few weeks. Anyone believing that need only read Britain's Political Parties On Alert," our European bureau chief Janet Porter's UK Report of Sept. 23. Chances are that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will call an election for early next year, but one need not be held before June 1988.

Here in the United States, I'm sure there were a few snickers the other day, when Pierre S. du Pont 4th announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Here it was seven weeks before the end of the 1986 congressional election campaign, and this man was asking us to pay attention to him for the 1988 presidential campaign.

Mr. du Pont, Pete" to his friends, a former governor of Delaware and a businessman, is a scion of the famous family that founded E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

He sounded two conservative Republican themes: End government involvement in the "agricultural marketplace" and replace welfare with work programs.

Some of his other ideas made him sound less like a Republican. He suggested government loans for anyone wanting to finance a college education or job training.

Perhaps to show he's with it, he called for mandatory drug testing of teen-agers. In case anybody hasn't noticed, drug trafficking and use and related crimes are the No. 1 issue in the 1986 campaign.

Mr. du Pont is taking a risk. By 1988, the drug issue might be forgotten.

Anyway, he'll have ample opportunity to expound on his programs between now and November 1988.

Two years seems like such a long time for the presidential campaign. But I think it's just about right.

After all we're going to elect the man or woman who may lead the nation and the West well into the 1990s.

Because President Reagan can't run again, all the candidates will be new. So it will take that long for Mr. du Pont and other candidates to get to know the issues and the people and for the people to get to know them and their ideas.

I'm not saying I'm thinking about the 1988 election night and day. I've got my Christmas shopping to think about for the next couple of months.

But I'm also aware of this: After Dec. 25 there are only 22 more shopping" months till November 1988. That's more than two states a month!

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