President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Bill Bradley and members of Congress flocked to the land of Mickey, Minnie and Donald last weekend for some old-fashioned, political rabble rousing at the Florida Democratic State Convention.
Some scenes from the party.
In 1996, the Clinton team made bridges -- namely a bridge to the 21st century -- its central campaign metaphor. Judging by the festivities here, trains may the symbol of choice in 2000. Gore burst into the hotel ballroom to the beat of "Love Train," and at an event with Africa-American leaders in Atlanta, bopped his head from side to side as the crowd kept singing long after the music died out.
The Bradley team carried the train imagery from introduction right through the candidate's speech. Duval County Sheriff Nat Glover, in a twist on the old Negro spiritual "Gospel Train," praised Bradley as the man who would bring more people onto America's "prosperity train."
When it was his turn to speak, the former basketball star, picked up Glover's theme to make his pitch for universal health insurance, campaign finance reform and an end to childhood poverty. "I say keep the prosperity train rolling, as Nat said, but get more people on that prosperity train."
It was as if the brothers Bush were wearing giant red bulls-eyes. African-American leaders, gathered for a rally with Atlanta, hooted and howled over the prospect of Texas Gov. George W. Bush winning the White House.
"I come from a state that understands a compassionate conservative speaks but it does not act," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas.).
After she warmed up the crowd, Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) observed: "We just wish all the leadership that came out of Texas was that good."
In Orlando, baby brother Jeb Bush, was the preferred target. Though he did not mention the Florida governor by name, Clinton urged party activists to resist a ballot initiative aimed at outlawing affirmative action in the state. Clinton also opposes a Bush plan to scuttle traditional affirmative action programs in state universities in favor of guaranteed admission for the top 20 percent of public high school students.
Although neither presidential candidate had time to talk to national press who traveled to Florida for the convention, both men adopted Clinton's 1992 "under the radar" strategy of wooing the local media directly.
After addressing the 2,300 delegates, Gore held a private roundtable discussion with Florida political reporters that was not listed on his schedule. Bradley was whisked out of the Wyndham Palace for a fund-raiser followed by one-on-one interviews with several television stations.
With the political spotlight turned on Iowa and New Hampshire, Bradley's deputy campaign manager Ed Turlington has been quietly infiltrating a handful of states that could prove critical if the nomination fight continues into March. Last week, Turlington said he held sessions with about 500 people across the state of Texas, including a meeting with 200 in Bush's adopted home town of Austin.
Turlington laid the groundwork for the convention here with an October swing that drew a total of 400 people over five days. Many are transplanted Northeasterners who knew Bradley during his days as a New York Knick or a New Jersey senator. Others, Turlington said, are new to politics.
Bradley's looking to Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis to provide a winning model in Florida. Turlington notes that Hart, after his 1984 New Hampshire primary victory, did the same in the Florida primary "with little infrastructure and little money.`
Of course, Bradley is more often compared to the late Paul Tsongas, another maverick who won New Hampshire in 1992. But the Tsongas boomlet waned by the March 10 Florida contest. Bill Clinton won 51 percent to Tsongas 35 percent.
The presidency still has its privileges. While Gore and Bradley were begging for votes, Clinton was collecting "mulligans" and "gimmes" on the golf course. Known for his broad interpretation of the rules of the game, Clinton played a round at the Inverrary Golf Club with North Carolina trial attorney Joe Rice, Florida optometrist Sal Malgen and businessman Michael Adler.
Staff writer Vanessa Williams contributed to this report.