- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES When Cruz Bustamante looks in his mirror during this political year of the Hispanic, he sees the nation's highest-ranking elected Hispanic. But few other Americans recognize him as such.
And California's round-faced, smiling lieutenant governor aimed to use the Democratic National Convention to make Americans more aware of him and his status.
He started by staging a celebrity-studded soiree at Universal Studios for all Hispanic delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
By the time he's done providing Los Lobos, Enrique Iglesias, Edward James Olmos, Jimmy Smits and other big-name Hispanic entertainment, Mr. Bustamante hopes his name and face will come up whenever Democrats think about Latino possibilities for Cabinet jobs or big political donations.
Mr. Bustamante is just one of many ambitious California politicians trying to make the ongoing convention a steppingstone to national prominence.
California Gov. Gray Davis said this is "the busiest week of my life." His schedule includes a round of parties and fund-raisers all day and evening every day. He hosted a 10,000-person Monday night bash on the Paramount Studios back lot for all delegates and drew an appearance by President Clinton.
Earlier Monday, he hosted all 18 Democratic governors at the ornate WPA-built Union Station. At Mr. Davis' table: former President Jimmy Carter and actor Martin Sheen, who plays a president on the television series "West Wing." Mr. Davis also gave a prime-time convention speech Monday, with another on tap tonight.
Included in his rounds have been a golf outing that raised $400,000 for the national party, a private dinner for his own campaign war chest at the house of supermarket mogul and longtime Davis donor Ron Burkle and hosting duties at fund-raisers featuring Vice President Al Gore, singer Barbra Streisand and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Raising money is just a means to an end," he said. "The end is what kind of candidates are elected to office."
Just as important is raising his national profile. "We have 20,000 important people delivered to our doorstep, most of whom have never met Gray," said Garry South, his chief political adviser.
Added Mark Baldassare, pollster for the Public Policy Institute of California, "It's a wonderful opportunity for elected officials in this state to showcase themselves for national office."
Before the week is out, Mr. Davis will have helped raise more than $1 million for the state and national parties, plus more for individual candidates like New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who netted $50,000 from a Davis-hosted Friday-night bash in Beverly Hills.
Why do all this? Party strategists see no doubt Mr. Davis will try to cash in his chits sometime, the timing being the only question.
"This introduces Gray to a national audience," said California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. "It sets him up for a national run in 2004 if we should lose this year. More likely, it starts to set him up for 2008. People will owe him a lot."
Mr. Torres added that all Mr. Davis is doing this week "gives him a platform for the future. The governor of California is always perceived as powerful, but often has not been a national figure. Gray wants to be one and this helps him a lot."
Mr. Bustamante said he staged what some are calling the party of the week because "I wanted to do something to show that those in the Latino community can do such an event.
"It shows substantial resources and it shows that Latino politics is much more mainstream than some believe. This isn't about spoils of victory. First, we have to win. People can figure out what to do afterwards," he said.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also hope "people" figure out what to do afterwards especially those in the Senate. Mrs. Feinstein said she hopes her state will benefit from her prominent convention role as an almost constant podium presence, the first person to greet President Clinton after his Monday night speech and hostess at several parties.
"This convention and the role Sen. Boxer and I have in it give our state a certain status," she said. "Take the Dakotas a total of 1.2 million people and four senators. We have about 30 times that many people, as many as 20 other states combined, and only two senators. When it comes to needs and revenues, we always have a big fight.
"This gives us added impetus because everyone here can see what we are in California and who our leaders are. I'm hoping that translates later into funding for transportation, for water projects, for restoring purity to Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea and for more Superfund-site cleanups.
"If the senators have a good experience here, it will help. It's also a chance to establish some of our people as heroes right here in California."
Says Bob Mulholland, the California Democratic Party's top campaign strategist, "This is a great way for us to reintroduce our people to the voters; not just here, but all over America. Unlike the state's Republicans in Philadelphia, we actually are putting elected Californians on the podium. It's a California stage show, with national TV in the city where John Kennedy was nominated."
Even lesser California Democrats who won't make it to the podium microphone hope to capitalize on the convention for both money and prestige.
State Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg has hosted a California beach party for delegates and will have another event for all the platform speakers on the convention's last night.
"I'm wanting to have friends in many places," said Mr. Hertzberg, who will be termed out of his present office and looking for another job 30 months from now.
"It's our party and we're trying to show everyone a good time," said Mr. Mulholland. "But why shouldn't it be of some use, too?"

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