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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: Democratic National Convention Notebook

August 18, 2000
Web posted at: 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT)

These conclusions from my notebook after four days of the 43rd Democratic national convention:

The delegates came to Los Angeles worried about George W. Bush's lead in the polls over Al Gore. They left Friday desperately wanting to believe that this convention had served to close the gap, but waiting anxiously for the poll results this weekend. It's a fair rule that if the true-believers are relying on the polls, the convention was not exactly a triumph.

Why wasn't this convention a roaring success that satisfied Democratic partisans as the Philadelphia convention satisfied Republicans?

The Clinton Problem: President Bill Clinton kicked off the proceedings Monday night with a brilliant political speech that awed delegates-paradoxically, to Gore's distress. Clinton could have used his political swan song to boost Gore as his successor, but he hardly mentioned him.

Instead, Clinton's classic self-indulgence prevailed, celebrating his own eight years rather boosting Gore for four future years. At the same time, Clinton's rhetorical prowess set a high bar for Gore that he found difficult to clear. At Gore's urging, Clinton got out of town after his Monday night speech, but he was on the telephone back to LA later in the week trying to influence Gore.

Liberal Night: The second session was a mindless waste. In an attempt to solidify the party's liberal base, the convention managers scheduled Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy and spokesmen for abortion rights, gay rights and organized labor. It was hardly a presentation designed to appeal to moderate swing voters.

The VP Selection: The high note for the convention as it assembled was the selection of Sen. Joe Lieberman for vice president: a surprise choice and daring in naming a moderate and the first Jew for a national ticket.

But that early glow soon faded. In order to quell left-wing complaints about him (especially from African-Americans), Lieberman delivered a conventional liberal speech Wednesday night that did not appeal to centrist swing voters that he is supposed to attract. Indeed, to compensate for Lieberman's moderate record, the convention had to tilt left.

Gore's Acceptance Speech: Things had not gone well going into the Thursday night closing session, and delegates were praying that Vice President Gore would hit a home run in his acceptance speech. It turned out to be a good deal less than that.

Gore made a conscious decision not to be personal about Bush, not to use his much-criticized hackneyed phrases ("risky schemes") and to project greater dignity. He did all of this, but at some cost.

The Gore speech turned out to be a laundry list of liberal spending programs, with a populist cast. I was standing amid the delegates who were roaring their approval of each line but seemed singularly unmoved by the speech. It was devoid of memorable lines. "I stand here tonight as my own man" is the only one that can be recalled.

Gore found himself in a peculiar dilemma. While Gore and his surrogates insisted that the presidential election should not be a popularity contest, the candidate went to great pains to unveil his personal side both in his video and his speech. It did not come over that well. The prolonged kiss on the convention podium between Gore and his wife was memorable but embarrassing.

Future Outlook: The quickie overnight polls Friday morning show widely divergent results, and should be disregarded. The polling results after three days are more important. If Gore is still 5 or 6 percentage points behind (as many think likely), it will be a disaster. Even a statistical dead heat is barely good enough to keep Gore alive.

In sum, it was not the convention that the Democrats had hoped for, and Al Gore faces a stiff task ahead.


Monday, August 14, 2000

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