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Push for open convention taking firm shape

The drive to "open up" the Democratic presidential nomination is maturing from a rump movement into a formal organization. It has now acquired a big-name chairman, offices in Washington and soon at the convention site in New York City, a war chest of $200,000, growing ranks of volunteer workers, and an ambitious battle plan:

To lobby all 1,985 delegates pledged to President Carter. Before the convention opens Aug. 11, to free themselves and other delegates to vote for other candidates if they wish.

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This effort takes on new credibility with the appointment as chairman of Edward Bennett Williams, the prominent Washington defense lawyer who served as treasurer of the Democratic Party in the mid-1970s.

The convention rule opposed by the group -- which would bind delegates elected on the CArter slate at state primaries or caucuses to vote for the President's renomination -- would violate a 148-year-long party tradition, reaffirmed in the party's governing charter as recently as 1974, that convention delegates be "free to vote their minds, their wills, their consciences," Mr. Williams argued at a Capitol Hill press conference here July 31.

Binding the delegates, as the Carter forces seek to do, would reduce delegates to "nothing more than robots or automatons or errand boys," he said.

He denied that opening up the convention was either a "dump Carter" movement, or would disenfranchise the millions of Democrats who voted for Carter slates in the party runoffs. "Superceding circumstances" -- notably the President's plunge in public-opinion polls and the furor over his brother Billy -- have intervened, he said.

The group claims the support of some 50 representatives, a much smaller number of senators, and a few state governors. Seven mostly junior House Democrats joined Mr. Williams at the press conference, while three others looked on.

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