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Novak Syndicated columnist Robert Novak is co-host of CNN's "Evans Novak, Hunt & Shields," as well as "Crossfire." He is providing exclusive convention analysis for

Robert Novak: Scenes from the Democratic National Convention

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- There's a lot going on behind the scenes at the 43rd Democratic national convention, and here's some of them from my notebook:

Bill Clinton's speech: The overriding question posed by the convention's opening night on Monday: How long will President Clinton speak?

Bill Clinton is averse to short speeches. Quite apart from his notoriously extended speech in 1988 when he entered Michael Dukakis's name in nomination for president, Clinton usually breaks the one-hour mark on any major address.

His Monday night convention speech, set in the 10 p.m.-11 p.m. (Eastern time) block which is scheduled to be covered by the broadcast television networks, is supposed to last 40 minutes. With applause, convention managers say, it will go 47 minutes.

The truth is, however, that a weekend rehearsal by the President was timed at 57 minutes -- and it could go longer.

The length is not just the product of the president's verbosity. If Clinton's speech hit or extends beyond the 11 p.m. market, the network analysts will have no chance to critique his effort as network broadcasting gives way to lucrative local news. That is precisely what Clinton wants.

Hillary Clinton's speech: The First Lady precedes her husband Monday night with much less time allotted: only eight minutes. But that, too, presents a problem.

Hillary Rodham Clinton now is thought of less as first lady of the land than as the Democratic Senate candidate in New York. So, why should she be given a coveted speaking role, while most other non-incumbent Democratic Senate candidates are not?

The convention managers tried to solve the problem by adding another woman Senate candidate to Monday night's speaking schedule: Rep. Debbie Stabenow, running a close race in Michigan against Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham. She will speak just before Mrs. Clinton.

No internal disputes: Like the Republican National Convention two weeks ago in Philadelphia, the Democrats in Los Angeles will have no floor fights. But the Democrats, traditionally a brawling and contentious party, go even further than the GOP in conflict avoidance.

The Republicans hashed out disputes over rules, contested delegate-seating and policy during frequently heated committee sessions immediately preceding the convention. In contrast, the Democrats settled all such matters well in advance.

In 1972, Democrats engaged in more than 100 fights over contested delegate credentials. This year, for the first time in memory, there were absolutely none.

The party platform, which avoids internal policy disputes, was buttoned down weeks ago -- with the big internal Democratic conflict over international trade smoothed over thanks to the use of ambiguous language.

Democrats used to battle long into the night over single words in the platform. But when I asked the influential House Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan on CNN Sunday morning whether he had read this year's platform, he replied candidly that he had not. He is not alone.

Kennedys galore: While the party platform will be ratified at Tuesday night's session, the convention's second meeting is referred to as "Kennedy night" by convention managers.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the only offspring of Robert F. Kennedy currently holding elective office, will address the convention. She will be followed by her brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaking about his specialty, environmental issues.

Next, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of John F. Kennedy, will introduce her uncle: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The senator will speak during the prime network time, supposedly for eight minutes or less.

Will his speech be as carefully edited as other convention speakers? "Are you kidding?" responded one of the official editors. "Teddy is the 1,000-pound gorilla. He does what he likes."


Monday, August 14, 2000

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