Originally created 08/18/00

Delegates wonder if Gore can be sold to American voters



LOS ANGELES - "Wasn't it a great speech?" Robert Kennedy asked about Joe Lieberman's vice presidential acceptance speech as he flashed the famous grin that was also the trademark of his assassinated father. I readily agreed, but Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund raised another question: "Yes, but can he ultimately make the sale to the American voter?"

That was typical of the banter at the hottest convention party in town - the George magazine soiree at the Beverly Hills home of Bill Clinton pal and Pulp Fiction movie producer Lawrence Bender. Celebrities and political activists were there to raise big bucks to benefit the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, but the talk was about how Lieberman obviously connects with people while Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore continues to have trouble. It was startlingly frank talk coming from the bosom of Hollywood's Democrat establishment.

There were no doubts among attendees, though, about one of the convention's new celebrities, Gore's charming daughter Karenna. At her convention appearances she greatly expanded her fan club - and more journalists than ever now flock to her for quotes. George W. Bush would be in trouble if she were the Democratic presidential nominee.

Lawrence O'Donnell, longtime Kennedy confidante and political guru, whispered his doubts as he was leaving Bender's bash. At a time of peace and prosperity, he worries, the Democratic ticket hasn't been registering the needed poll numbers "bounce" that normally comes from a convention. So even as Gore takes center stage after accepting his party's nomination, the question remains: Can the Gore-Lieberman ticket ultimately make the sale in November?

The delegates clapped and cheered for Al Gore yesterday. But, in their hearts, many would prefer Clinton again. Or Karenna. Or any Kennedy.

Demo definitions

The Staples Convention Center has been filled with many signs. Different ones with different names (i.e. "Hadassah") or themes (i.e. "Social Security, Not Tax Cuts For The Few") were passed out before almost every major speech to the party faithful with an efficiency that would make a Prussian military officer proud. But the main sign being displayed every day simply proclaims "Democrats for Working Families." Gore and Lieberman have incessantly talked about helping "working families." But what really is the meaning of the term "working family"? I headed to the floor to interview the wiser members of the Georgia delegation for the final answer.

Gov. Roy Barnes, taking a breather from school choice bashing by a National Education Association boss who looked like one of those old Soviet leaders who used to wave from Lenin's tomb, took a stab. "It means every family with jobs earning an income." Does that mean millionaire Steve Forbes is part of a working family? "Well, yes," the governor conceded with a chuckle. "He does work." Income doesn't matter? "No."

Georgia Democratic Party Chairman David Worley, answering the same question, stammered, "Uh, there's no income level but it's families with more than one wage earner." My reply: What about George W. Bush and his wife? "He doesn't work," Worley shot back. "I don't think he has worked at a real job hardly a day in his life."

Aikenite in control

There she was at her Staples Center command post, on a phone talking to who knows who, probably coordinating one last timing detail concerning the daunting convention schedule. No doubt her family and friends in Aiken are proud of home town girl Marcia Hale, who tirelessly and admirably served this week as the Gore convention manager.

Hale is well known in Washington and national Democratic circles, especially because of her long stint as President Clinton's head of White House intergovernmental affairs. It's not well known, however, that she got her start as the convention floor manager for Michael Dukakis (remember him?) at the 1988 Democratic conclave. That convention ran smoothly, too. But her candidate didn't win. She's obviously hoping for better luck this time.

Chronicle columnist Phil Kent writes from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles this week.