Linda Chavez

 Like a kid sneaking a peak at his birthday presents and spoiling the fun of the party, John Kerry has managed to take all the surprise out of the Democratic convention by picking his vice-presidential nominee three weeks before the first balloons drop in Boston. Kerry played it safe by choosing Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as his running mate, but it might have boosted convention ratings if he had held the announcement until the delegates gathered. But maybe there was method in his precipitate action.

 Usually political conventions are a forum to showcase a party's best and brightest, as well as reward old party faithful. The convention is supposed to set the theme for the general election campaign by giving voters a reason to vote for the party's nominees. But Democrats can't seem to think of a reason to vote for John Kerry, although they can come up with plenty of reasons to vote against President Bush. So it might have been awkward for the Democrats to come to Boston and try to put on a convention packed with positive themes.

 They are not so much trying to sell American voters on the Democratic Party and its nominees as they are trying to paint George W. Bush as a demon. If much of the convention speculation centered around the vice-presidential pick, it would have thrown them off message -- and perhaps even more dangerously, it would have invited scrutiny about what the Democrats are actually offering the American people, other than catharsis for Bush haters.

 Most public opinion polls show the race neck and neck, with few undecided voters. Events -- a terrorist attack that took a large number of American lives in Iraq or, worse, in the United States, a big jump or decline in jobs, or an embarrassing revelation about one of the candidates -- might change things before Election Day. But chances are, the margin in this election will remain razor thin right up to Nov. 2. Democrats are hoping for the worst to beat Bush, but it's not much of a platform.

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Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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