Friday, August 18, 2000

The morning after

Party still lacks a spark

        LOS ANGELES — The Democrats are in trouble.

        They left their nominating convention and this southern California city enthused but not necessarily excited, cautiously optimistic but not incredibly confident.

        Al Gore and Joe Lieberman give the party a ticket that has the ability to win but one that still needs to prove to voters that it can beat the Republicans in November.

        The Democrats four-day convention was more substantive than the show the Republicans put on earlier this month in Philadelphia, but not all voters actually look at the issues when they cast their ballots. You can talk issues all day, and the Democrats tried but failed miserably with the televised panel discussions featuring senators chatting with real people.

        A party can have the message and feel strong about its platform, but if it doesn't know how to package that and sell it to voters its candidates can forget about being elected.

        That's a sad commentary on our electoral process, but it's also a stark reality of today's political world.

GOP looked better

               Looking back and comparing both conventions the Republicans seemed to have their act together far more so than the Democrats.

        Remember Tuesday night's session with the Democrats? It was a night spent in deep nostalgia, what with all the references to and appearances by various Kennedys.

        But it was also a cry for help to the party's liberals, letting them know that, yes, the Democratic Party has moved hard to the center on a lot of issues and it settled on a vice president candidate who in the past bucked the party's position on Social Security, affirmative action and education, but there is still room for them on the platform and in the party.

Party needs its base

               The problem, however, is if you don't have your base on board at this stage in an election then the prospects for winning the election look dim.

        The Republicans, who in the last couple of elections have operated like a dysfunctional family, presented a much more unified front in Philadelphia.

        There was far more energy and passion for Bill Clinton than for Al Gore, a situation that recalls 1988, when the Republicans said good-bye to the beloved Ronald Reagan during a convention that nominated George Bush.

        A real concern for the Democrats is that even with all the attention on Mr. Gore and the party this week, George W. Bush still leads in the polls. And if there is a bounce for Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman, it does not appear it will be anything like the party had hoped for.

        None of this is to suggest that Mr. Bush will win the race. Don't forget, campaigns start when conventions end. Still to come are debates, long campaign swings through key states that include Kentucky, serious policy debates, nasty television ads, rhetoric and substance, a test of Mr. Bush's ability to lead and an examination of Mr. Gore's capabilities to continue what Mr. Clinton started.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort.