BOSTON -- Why are we even here?
National political-party conventions are like Disneyland for politicos. Some journalists claim they hate coming to them and grouse that nothing real happens on the convention floor -- the platforms, candidates and strategies already have been decided. So it is also a conceit among political consultants that the conventions are a sop for amateurs, which is why many pros skip them.
All true. And yet this is the front-row seat, the peek at things to come, the glimpse of what the party faithful will be saying and doing in the weeks to come, and a chance to have savvy insiders buttonhole you in a crowded room so that they can tell you what the home team is doing wrong or, on a good night, what the home team is doing right.
As a bonus this year, the convention is in John Kerry's hometown -- my old hometown, too -- and everyone here has an opinion on the Long Face.
Does familiarity breed contempt for the presidential candidate?
Yes. In the Bay Area, I am regaled with stories about Republicans who say they will vote for Kerry over George W. Bush. In the Bay State, some former die-hard Democrats tell me that they will be voting for Bush over Kerry: They haven't seen Kerry do much for Massachusetts.
When I ask a longtime Massachusetts resident if he'll be voting for Kerry, he confides, yes: "We hate him here. But we hate Bush even more." In California, Democrats excuse Kerry's pro-war vote as something he was forced to do. In Massachusetts, Dems know better. One old friend of mine makes no bones about it: Kerry voted for the war resolution to win the election. This friend expects to vote for Kerry, but he's not happy about it.
Do Democrats believe Kerry will win?
Some do. The smart ones, like Joe Cerrell, California's dean of political consultants, who is attending his 13th Democratic National Convention, say they think Kerry will, but Cerrell is not sure. "This is a tight election," says Cerrell, age 68, "and every day means something."
Who are the delegates?
They are believers, whether they hold elective office or are first-timers. They don't like George W. Bush, and they don't like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and still, they believe in the system. The California Democratic Party wants you to know that the majority (53 percent) of the 441 delegates are minorities: 25.6 percent Latino, 15.4 percent African American, with the remainder Asian groups or "other." In addition, 8.6 percent of the delegates are under age 30. The youngest is 19; the oldest is 88. Other stats: 49.7 percent female, 6.1 percent disabled, 5 percent gay male and 3.2 percent lesbian.
Who do I run into in the elevator?
Angela Bradstreet, past president of the San Francisco Bar Association, who has fought so hard to chase off the bench judges associated with the Boy Scouts (because they would appear not to be impartial when ruling on cases involving homosexuals). She's an excited first-time delegate who is convinced Kerry will win, because, she says, Bush misled America on the war in Iraq.
I ask: Does Kerry agree with what your anti-Boy Scout crusade?
"I don't know; I haven't asked him. I'm sure if he did, he wouldn't say so publicly." So sometimes it is OK to mislead?
What is Radio Iran doing here?
Reza Goharzad of Irvine, Calif., is Radio Iran, broadcasting in the United States and Iran. I ask: Whom would most Iranians like to see elected?
He answers: "The majority of Iranians, who you don't see on TV, are regular people, working people, therefore they're for the Democrats." They have formed: Iranians for Kerry.
Who is the happiest pol of all?
Conventions have long served as an opportunity for publicity-happy politicians to schmooze with journalists in the hope of some good ink or placing their face in the TV news. You don't want to stand between those pols and a press pass. (Thus, the Boston Herald's Howie Carr nicknamed Kerry "Liveshot," in homage to Kerry's reputation as a shameless media hound.)
Former California Gov. Gray Davis used to be such man. But Sunday night, at the California delegation party held at the Franklin Park Zoo, the media and the delegates came to him.
Post recall, Davis has become a celebrity. Well-wishers thronged around him -- eager to be photographed with him, receive a prized personalized autograph or bask in the (who would have predicted?) Davis glow. Why is he glowing? No one blames him for the budget mess. "Occasionally, Arnold calls" for advice, he tells me.
If you live long enough, do you see everything?
So that old Al Gore joke about the colorless Davis being a "charisma adviser" have come true.