- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2000

LOS ANGELES.

Al Gore and Joseph I. Lieberman left here last week as the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential nominees, but with portions of their party's base divided, doubtful or simply unenthused about the ticket.

The Democratic Leadership Council's New Democrat wing of the party, which lifted Bill Clinton to the presidency, showed that it was still the party's dominant force. The DLC had backed Mr. Gore early for the nomination and promoted Mr. Lieberman, its chairman, for the No. 2 spot, and even wrote the platform. But no amount of Kennedy family endorsements, Gore family videos ,or increased media coverage could overcome the uninspired feeling in the party's liberal base among unions, blacks and other party activists.

The messages of malaise were heard everywhere: "People are saying, 'We don't see the Democrats standing for us,' " said Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a liberal leader of the party. "It is a hurdle to overcome. And the vice president needs to do it soon."

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown complained that "Gore is not emotionally in touch with the party's base."

Some here were still having trouble accepting Mr. Lieberman as their vice-presidential nominee. "Certainly, the choice of Lieberman was not a choice to enrapture liberals," said Bob Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, which has been working to push the party's agenda leftward.

Mr. Borosage hates the platform's free-trade provisions and he ridicules Mr. Gore's policy of using the surplus to pay down the debt as "pre-Coolidge fiscal policies." Still, there was enough liberalism in the platform to mollify him for the present: Gun controls, much more spending on education, expanding Medicare and other health-care spending, universal preschool, tougher environmental regulations, meager tax cuts, and the like.

Mr. Lieberman's support for school-choice vouchers, for partly privatizing Social Security and against group preferences in affirmative-action programs all positions that he once held strongly but ran away from last week angered a number of party liberals.

Chief among them was California Rep. Maxine Waters, a far-left leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, who told a black forum here, "We have, in our vice-presidential nominee, someone who is different from us on many of these issues." She threatened to bolt.

But Mr. Lieberman met privately with her, then addressed the Black Caucus. He told them that he had always been for affirmative action and had worked in the civil rights struggles in the 1960s. Actually, Mr. Lieberman's record shows strong opposition to group-preference policies, which in 1995 he said were "patently unfair."

In his convention speech, he said he supported Mr. Clinton's policy of "mend it, don't end it." Mrs. Waters appeared to accept his explanation and said she supports the ticket, but a close colleague says that "it is not enthusiastic."

Mrs. Waters was not the only black leader who demonstrated a clear lack of enthusiasm among the party's troops.

When asked at a roundtable forum of black intellectuals and political leaders including NAACP president Kweisi Mfume whether blacks should vote for Mr. Gore, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago resisted giving a direct answer. Instead he gave this tepid response:

"The only option is Al Gore. But if there was another campaign that was speaking to our issues that had the possibility and plausibility of winning, we should support that campaign."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, a leader in the party's Hispanic caucus whose support is critical to Mr. Gore if he is to carry California was said to be bitter over her treatment by Gore campaign officials because they forced her to move her Playboy Mansion fund-raising event to another venue or lose her invitation to address the convention.

When Mrs. Sanchez relented, convention officials restored her speaking slot, but then she stunned them by withdrawing as a speaker.

Worried over Mr. Gore's weakness among the party's base, campaign strategists brought in the party's liberal old guard Tuesday night dubbed "Liberal Night" to give their troops some red-meat rhetoric. But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Bill Bradley and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were reminders of the party's past, not its future.

Mr. Kennedy was still railing for the nationalization of the nation's health care system. Mr. Bradley, quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke of children who didn't have enough to eat, saying millions of them were "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished."

"At times, Bradley sounded as if he were still making his campaign argument that Clinton and Gore lacked solutions proportionate to the nation's problems," said Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein.

There were many liberal Democrats here who still wished that Mr. Bradley were their candidate. William M. Daley, Mr. Gore's campaign chairman, was greeted with scattered hisses at a Bradley rally at which the former presidential contender released his 359 delegates to vote for Mr. Gore.

When Mr. Daley said that "to honor [Bradley] is to make sure that the sort of things that he's talked about get implemented," he received tepid applause and was drowned out by shouts of "Bradley" from his supporters, who still have an emotional attachment toward him that they do not have toward Mr. Gore.

The weakness in Mr. Gore's base demonstrated here reflects his weakness in the country at large. A Los Angeles Times poll of likely voters showed last week that George W. Bush was attracting an unprecedented 95 percent of Republicans, while only 78 percent of Democrats said they were voting for Mr. Gore. With Mr. Bush drawing 18 percent of Democratic men, it is clear that he is appealing to socially conservative Democrats whom the party is ignoring.

Unlike Bill Clinton at this point in 1992, Al Gore has not solidified his base or enthused his party's ground forces. The DLC's New Democrats won the nominating battle, wrote the platform and ran the convention, but they may have neglected the most important rule in politics: Get everyone on board.



Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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