Sunday, August 13, 2000

Dems expect own bounce

Delegates' advice: Point to boom time

By Howard Wilkinson and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Democratic delegates from Ohio and Kentucky who are gathering in Los Angeles aren't complaining about going last.

        A week ago, they were watching on the sidelines as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney came roaring out of a Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that, while short on substance, was a four-day, feel-good lovefest that gave the GOP ticket a giant boost in the polls.


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Delegate list

        Barring disaster, the delegates who convene here Monday to nominate Al Gore for president and Joseph Lieberman for vice president believe the same will happen for them in an equally choreographed four-day infomercial.

        “Al Gore and the Democrats who speak at the convention need to remind people how well-off we are compared to eight years ago,” when the Republicans were in the White House, said Kentucky delegate Jerry Stricker, a Covington city commissioner.

        Ignore the polls and stay the course is the advice most Ohio and Kentucky delegates would deliver to their nominee.

        “I think he needs to relax and be himself,” said Jane Campbell, an Ohio delegate and Cuyahoga County commissioner. “Talk about the economy, the investment in our people, and show the incredibly positive impact of the policies of the Clinton-Gore administration.”

        Pointing to the economic boom will be one of the principal occupations of those who come to the podium to speak at the Staples Center in Los Angeles this week.

        The message will be simple: If you liked the economic good times of the Clinton years, the Gore years will be even better.

        “Gore needs to show middle-class families that prosperity will continue to grow,” said 22-year-old Allison Friedrich of Athens, Ohio, an intern in the congressional office of U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat.

        Delegate Shirley Hueslmann of Fort Mitchell, the chairwoman of the Kenton County Democratic Party, said the message coming out of Los Angeles this week is that “there is just no need to make a change right now. We're better off than we were under the Republicans.”

        The people going to Los Angeles to represent Ohio and Kentucky Democrats are, for the most part, partisan political people heavily engaged in politics.

        It is the more independent “swing” voters in both states that the Gore-Lieberman ticket will have to attract. Most of those voters belong to middle-class families with children.

        Ohio and Kentucky are considered bellwether states — giving their electoral votes to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and switching to Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

        Ohio is part of a string of Great Lakes states that many think will decide the election, while Kentucky has gone with the winning candidate in each of the last nine presidential contests.

        Last month — before the GOP convention — the University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll had Mr. Bush with a four-point advantage over Mr. Gore in a field that included Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

        The latest poll in Kentucky, taken at the end of June by the Lexington marketing firm Preston-Osborne, had Mr. Bush leading Mr. Gore by five points.

        The Gore campaign, Ohio Democrats say, will reach swing voters by drawing sharp differences between Gore-Lieberman and Bush-Cheney on issues that matter most to middle-class working families.

        “He needs to talk about the record of the last eight years and make clear the differences between the two parties on issues like the minimum wage, prescription drugs for seniors, Social Security, the environment and many more,” said William Lavelle, an Athens attorney and former Ohio Democratic Party chairman who has been a delegate to every convention since 1956.

        Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, a delegate and co-chairman of the convention, said the story of the Democrats' success must be co-mingled with comments about what he called the “duplicity” of the Republican platform.

        “We have to point out the inconsistency of the Republicans saying ... they do all these things that Democrats have done and want to, including on issues involving women and children,” Mr. Patton said.

        Alicia Reece, the 28-year-old first-term Cincinnati City councilwoman, said that in the Cincinnati area, the election could be decided on which candidate comes forth with the strongest educational program. Education, she said, is the issue people are most interested in.

        “Gore is in a position to do that, particularly among voters in urban school districts,” said Ms. Reece, an Ohio at-large delegate. “He is the candidate who is talking about keeping the public school system intact.”

        What bothers some Democrats the most about the contest between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush is the assertion that Mr. Bush will restore leadership and moral authority to a White House sullied by years of Clinton scandals.

        But many Democrats think they can neutralize those attacks with the presence of Mr. Lieberman on the ticket. A senator, Mr. Lieberman was one of the first high-profile Democrats to openly criticize Mr. Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, though the Connecticut Democrat did vote against impeaching the president.

        “Certainly we want to send a message that we do not approve of President Clinton's morals and conduct,” Mr. Patton said. “But on the moral issue we have got to emphasize that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are not Bill Clinton.”