- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

PHILADELPHIA George W.'s work is cut out for him. He may not be overconfident, going up 14 points in the polls and watching the SS Hillary begin to take on water in New York, but a lot of the delegates here can only be described as, well, giddy.
Nervous, but giddy. They've waited eight years to see the end of the Clinton-Gore era, watching as the Arkansas mercury and his Tennessee stalking horse survived one mortal wound after another, and now that the end looks once more in sight, they're having a difficult time believing that it isn't too good to be true.
And it may be. The second-most repeated phrase in the coffee shops, the hotel lobbies, the restaurants and the endless succession of parties stretching from New Jersey almost to Wilmington is, "well, it's early, and the race will be close."
The most repeated remark, almost as if a mantra, is about "how good Dick Cheney looks."
Mr. Cheney is the chaser that most of the delegates here were looking for, confident of their man at the top of the ticket, but eager for the reassurance of a man not easily rattled in the face of enemy fire. The vicious Democratic attack on him circled the delegate wagons, even if it took a week or so for the party regulars in Washington to notice what the Democrats were trying to do to the ticket. There's a great sigh of relief that history has not repeated itself, that the Democratic attack machine failed to make a Dan Quayle of Dick Cheney. Even James Carville, who is in town to do a little "oppo research," is wearing a long face instead of the usual blood on his bib.
There's a remarkable unanimity of opinion that the Republicans in Congress once more let down the side, by letting Dick Cheney twist slowly in the wind for several days with no attempt to help him. Dennis Hastert's explanation that well, everybody was packing his bags for Philadelphia, and there was no time to do anything about it, was the most blatant wimp-out since Michael Dukakis, asked in the debates what he would do if a rapist should come after his wife, replied that he would appoint a commission to study the causes of rape.
When someone approached Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, for a brief time a candidate for president himself (and for an even briefer time a certified Independent), at a baseball game on Sunday afternoon to ask why the Republicans in the Senate sent Mr. Cheney their best wishes instead of a few eager fists for the fight, turned away.
Tim Hutchinson, the senator from Arkansas, professed surprise when someone asked why Mr. Cheney got no help from the senators of his party. "Do you really think that happened?" he asked.
Others think George W. himself signaled that fisticuffs were not necessary, or even wanted, in Mr. Cheney's behalf. This is, after all, a compassionate convention, and the strategy here is to do nothing to upset the dichotomy (big words are fashionable this year) of mean, angry Democrats vs. nice, happy Republicans.
Republicans with a taste for ghost stories look no further backward than the last convention held in Philadelphia. That would have been in 1948, when not only the Republicans, but the Democrats and the Progressive Party, nominated Tom Dewey, Harry S. Truman, and Henry Wallace, respectively.
Tom Dewey, the crime-busting governor of New York, arrived in Philadelphia with no sure prospect of victory. He didn't know how many delegates he could count on, since in those days the delegates were the creatures of the party bosses. Harold Stassen was breathing down his neck.
In the event, the little man on the wedding cake won the nomination, and fortified by a poll that showed him 28 points in front of Harry Truman in late summer, went off to savor his prospects at his farm in upstate New York.
Harold Stassen, who made himself a figure of fun in later years, was anything but a figure of fun in the postwar years. He was thought by a lot of people to be the inevitable president. Last week, at 93 and living in a rest home in Minnesota, he recalled to Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report that he flew up to warn Dewey of impending disaster.
The New York governor grew incensed at the impertinence. Polls were new, and though not nearly as reliable as today's polls, were thought to be magic. "I urged Dewey to get out and campaign and meet the issues head on… . Dewey coasted and lost. And all because the polls were so good."
There's no sign that George W. thinks the election is in the bag. But giddy often turns to contentment and then to complacency. The emphasis on compassion, as if conservatism is not forever under assault, scares some delegates. But it's not a week for anything but celebration.

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