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What to look for Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Here is what to look for at Wednesday's Democratic National Convention:

Lieberman: Which Joe Lieberman will show up for duty in Wednesday night's acceptance speech? The Joe Lieberman who won a funniest-D.C.-celebrity contest and regularly holds his own with tart-tongued radio host Don Imus, or the Joe Lieberman who regularly puts listeners to sleep with a dry-as-matzoh delivery on the Senate floor? Will it be the Joe Lieberman with a reputation for bipartisan gravitas, or the Joe Lieberman who appeared on national TV the morning he was picked with a highly partisan us-versus-them speech before a Connecticut AFL-CIO meeting? Gore needs an attack dog on his ticket; Lieberman has a reputation for building bridges between partisans in the Senate, but he'll be expected to burn a few of those bridges on Wednesday night.

Vietnam: Democratic leaders believe that the American public may be familiar with Al Gore the Veep but know nothing about Al Gore the Human Being. Starting Wednesday, they hope to change that with heavy emphasis on portions of his biography. Up first: Gore's tour of duty in Vietnam, which the Gore camp believes is the most compelling part of his life story. But a few details must be finessed, or ignored entirely. For example, can the campaign highlight that fact that he refused to use family connections to avoid active duty (like a certain other presidential candidate) even though his family connections limited his actual combat experience? Vietnam veterans Max Cleland and Bob Kerrey will be on hand to make the case that America needs a real veteran in the White House.

Gephardt: In recent speeches, Dick Gephardt has barely mentioned Al Gore, leading many to conclude that the House Democrats have already laid plans to campaign independently of Gore in the fall. Will Gephardt's Wednesday night address spend more time promoting Dick-for-Speaker or Al-for-President? Will Gephardt embrace the Gore/Clinton record or give himself -- and, by extension, House Dems -- some wiggle room in case the Gore campaign tanks between now and November? As a side issue, how will Gephardt deal with union members, many of whom consider him a hero and Gore a traitor to the cause?

Roll Call: One measure of party unity -- particularly for Democrats -- is how many delegates defect from the ticket after days of arm-twisting and brainwashing by the party's nominee. Bush came within seven votes of getting a unanimous first-ballot victory. Can Gore even come close to that mark? Maybe not. Will it matter? Possibly -- even a handful of dissenters would send a message that Gore may have a problem. After all, there's a lot of overlap between the Bradley voters of February and the Nader vote today.

Prime Time: Okay, no one expected the Democrats to be as disciplined as the Republicans, but it's not a good idea to push your marquee speakers like Joe Lieberman so far out of prime time that local TV stations are tempted to carry their regularly scheduled MASH reruns instead. Can the Dems get their act together or will they, to coin a phrase, squander more opportunities?


Tuesday, August 15, 2000

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