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New-style Democrats poised to lead. Sen. Kennedy's decision to sit out the '88 presidential race will alter tenor of campaign for both major parties

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A new generation of leadership is now poised to take over the Democratic Party. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who announced last week that he would not seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, was seen as the heir of past Democratic greatness -- the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Fair Deal of Harry S. Truman, the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy, the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Now, Senator Kennedy's surprise announcement throws the contest wide open to as many as a dozen potential candidates within his own party, and makes Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado the instant front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Kennedy's decision changes the tenor of the '88 race in important ways for Republicans as well.

The Democratic Party, as defined by Kennedy, is a champion of the poor, the hungry, the jobless, and the minorities. It reflects policies that were put in place when America had an economy unchallenged in the world.

New-style Democrats such as Senator Hart, Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware have other, additional priorities. They wrestle with questions of military reform, industrial policy, foreign competition, tax reform, and technological innovation. Their appeal is less emotional and more businesslike.

Kennedy's decision also opens the way for another potential candidate who represents more traditional Democratic values: Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York. Kennedy has singled out Governor Cuomo as a ``very strong candidate'' for the party nomination.

The Kennedy decision surprised official Washington and raised the question, Why? The senator explained: ``I have decided that the best way to advance the values that you and I share -- peace on Earth, economic growth at home, compassion to all Americans -- is to be a United States senator and not a candidate for president of the United States. I know that this decision means that I may never be president, but the pursuit of the presidency is not my life. Public service is.''

In a brief news conference in Boston Friday morning, Kennedy said that speculation about his presidential plans has made him ``unable to speak to the issues of importance to me and the American people.''

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