Democrats found themselves on the defensive Saturday as they assembled for their first major conclave since the quick allied victory in the Persian Gulf war.

They had plenty to worry about: President Bush's popularity is soaring, Democratic registration is ebbing and no strong national candidates have yet emerged to challenge the Republican president in 1992."The crisis of our own Democratic Party is more acute than ever," outgoing state party Chairman Jerry Brown said in a rousing speech to 23,000 delegates to the California Democratic state convention.

Brown and other party leaders made it clear they are eager for the nation's attention to turn from the euphoria of victory over Iraq to economic concerns, like recession and a tax system they say favors the rich.

"These polls go up and down," said national party Chairman Ron Brown, reflecting on Bush's high approval rating. "They ought to be high now. America ought to be rallying around its commander in chief coming out of a decisive victory. As the debate changes, the numbers will change."

The convention had been scheduled to debate a number of resolutions relating to the war, but most have been rendered moot by the allied victory and likely will be shelved.

Instead, the focus was on candidates lining up to run for an unprecedented two U.S. Senate seats in 1992.

One of the candidates is Jerry Brown, the onetime governor who took a sabbatical from politics after his defeat in a 1982 U.S. Senate campaign.

Brown is resigning as state party chairman two years into a four-year term despite a promise in 1989 to finish his term before seeking another office.

"After two years of nuts and bolts, I'm tired of it," Brown said. "It's not my best suit, and I'd rather speak my mind."

Brown said he will focus on a tax system that favors the rich and the need to break a stranglehold on Congress by monied special interests.

Within the past year, Democratic registration in California has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in three decades. California is pivotal to the party's success nationally. After picking up seven congressional seats because of population growth, the Golden State will have one out of 10 electoral votes in the 1992 presidential election.

Brown, who ran a quixotic presidential campaign in 1980, is running for a full six-year term to replace embattled Sen. Alan Cranston, who is retiring.

Other candidates include Reps. Robert Matsui of Sacramento and Barbara Boxer of Greenbrae, in Marin County north of San Francisco. Both wooed delegates at the convention.

Matsui, Boxer and most Democratic members of Congress initially voted against the war and are now having to explain their votes. Boxer's critics have dubbed her "Baghdad Barbara," which she said "is a scurrilous way to start a Senate race.

Boxer and Matsui are saying that they only wanted to give sanctions against Iraq more time before going to war.