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What to look for Monday at the Democratic National Convention

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Here's what to look for at the Democratic National Convention on Monday:

Follow the script? The GOP convention was a model of efficiency -- tightly scripted, highly disciplined and without a hair out of place. The question is not whether the Democrats can match that feat -- they're Democrats, after all -- but just how unruly and undisciplined they will be, and whether the public will care.

TV execs loved the GOP's ability to consistently hit their marks on time, but it's an open question whether the home audience had the same appreciation of the "Stepford convention." There's even a school of thought that viewers prefer the kind of messy, unscripted tangle of plot lines that used to be found in conventions of old. Will a few minor glitches make the convention seem more "reality-based" or leave the impression that the Democrats shouldn't be trusted to run the government any longer?

Going negative: The Republicans tried to put on a happy face and effectively ordered most speakers to avoid the kind of harsh, partisan attacks that were the staple of past conventions. Don't count on the Dems to pull their punches. There is no such command from on high for Democratic speakers, and starting on Monday night, we'll see just how far they will go. Will they bash Bush at every turn, or just every other turn? Will they land a punch or just swing wildly? Most important, how much is too much? Monday night is the opening bell.

Politicians: The GOP hid most of its politicians from view, but the Dems are having an old-fashioned conclave, complete with scores of career politicians in back-to-back-to-back speeches. The plan is to show that the Democrats are the party of substance after the fluff of Philadelphia. Will it work -- or will showcasing an endless string of pols backfire on the Democrats? And are some of the party's backbenchers really ready for the big time?

Hillary Clinton: Hillary gets her turn in the spotlight on Monday night and her agenda has little or nothing to do with getting Gore re-elected. The only audience she cares about -- New York voters -- are so liberal that she may wind up farther to the left than party leaders would prefer for a prime-time speech.

Hillary's people settled for a Monday night slot after lobbying vigorously for a Tuesday night appearance that might have helped her Empire State Senate bid but would have stolen some attention from Gore. How will she take to being a table-setter for her husband's sidekick? As a bonus, watch for how much time the broadcast networks will devote to her speech. Two weeks ago, the nets were criticized for cutting away from Laura Bush's Monday night speech for commercials or talking heads. Will Hillary get more face time than Laura? You can bet the GOP will be timing this with a stopwatch.

Bill Clinton:This is the No. 1 topic not just of Monday night but the entire convention. Can Clinton exit gracefully, and if so, how? Can he avoid sucking all the oxygen out of the room? Ronald Reagan pulled it off perfectly in his Monday night speech in 1988 -- hitting all the grace notes and leaving the stage to his successor. But after eight exhausting years in the White House, the 77-year-old Reagan didn't want the spotlight any longer, and was more than happy to amble off into the sunset.

Clinton clearly still craves the limelight -- but he also craves writing his name large in the history books by getting his heir apparant elected. Does he make any mention of Monica? Can he pull the same rabbit out of his hat as he did in his 1998 State of the Union speech, in which he saved his presidency by reminding the public just how well things were going in the country? Clinton is a master of the Big Speech, and this is a big one.



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Sunday, August 13, 2000


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