CHICAGO -- They don't call this a Democratic Party for nothing, first-time delegates are finding out.
"It's just one huge party," said Ranse Partin, a 22-year-old University of Georgia law student, whose delegate credentials have gotten him into some of Chicago's fanciest hotels and jumpingest night-spots.
"A lot of the parties are closed," he confided, "but a lot you can sort of get into with a suit and a smile."
That's how Mr. Partin, who is originally from Nashville in south Georgia, got to see the Four Tops perform at a Tuesday night gala sponsored by Visa, and how he found himself in a luxury skybox atop the United Center convention hall rubbing elbows with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, presidential aide George Stephanopoulos and broadcaster Larry King.
"A lot of my friends back home are Republicans," Mr. Partin said, "so it felt good to be surrounded by Democrats."
The business end of being a delegate - at a convention where the platform and nomination are already decided - is pretty light stuff. Delegation members meet daily for breakfast, then spend the afternoon shopping and sightseeing before reporting to the convention hall, where their jobs consist of sign-waving and cheering, especially if a local person is at the podium.
During the off-hours, delegates are besieged with invitations for fund-raisers, workshops and briefings.
The party circuit is where the action is really at, with an exclusive A-list event every night that some average-guy delegates invariably succeed in crashing.
On Monday night, it was Chicago Bulls' basketball coach Phil Jackson saluting former basketball great turned senator Bill Bradley at a restaurant named for Bulls' superstar Michael Jordan. Then on Tuesday, it was John F. Kennedy Jr. throwing a bash for his political magazine, George, at a Chicago art gallery.
"There are two forms of currency at a convention - party invitations and credentials," said Ed Feiler, a Savannah builder and Democratic activist, who is accompanying the delegates as their official photographer.
Mr. Feiler, like many of the guests, is getting his tickets through an unofficial but elaborate network of corporate and interest-group lobbyists sponsoring these gatherings - in his case, home-builders.
Phyllis Barrow, a delegate from Athens, said party-goers aren't even conscious of who is paying for what; they just know it isn't them.
"I know we have sponsor tags everywhere, but of course we are just coming down off the Olympics," Ms. Barrow said. "Everything looks very subdued to me." GEORGIA BRIEFS:
Gov. Zell Miller, whose Tuesday convention remarks on the platform got wide national media coverage, capped off his day with an appearance on Cable News Network's "Capital Gang" roundtable. He particularly relished the combat with right-wing columnist Bob Novak, known in Washington media circles as "the prince of darkness" for his snarling demeanor. Said Miller: "I told him, `Bob, I have a feeling you'd like this Democratic convention a lot better if there was a smell of tear gas in the air and some hippie climbing a statue somewhere."'
Miller was toasted by White House counselor Mack McLarty, a boyhood friend of President Clinton, who told Georgia delegates, "We would not be here talking about a second term for this president without the help and support of Zell Miller at a critical time in American history.." The governor is credited with helping Clinton win the 1992 Georgia primary, his first victory after a shaky start. McLarty ridiculed the Republican convention as a "masquerade party" in which GOP activists pretended to welcome minorities and tolerate dissenting opinions.
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