A tall, distinguished-looking man with silver hair made his way up the ramp outside the Dallas Convention Center this morning, and several of the delegates to the Texas Democratic convention strained to get a look.
"Cra . . . Cramer?" said one man. "Is that it?"
"I'm not sure," said another man.
Well, not quite. It was Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina. The man they were thinking of, Sen. Alan Cranston of California, was already safely inside autographing delegate badges and convention booklets.
So began another round in what one of the participants today called the "Pillsbury bake-off" of candidates.
Five Democrats seeking the 1984 presidential nomination were here to address roughly 5,600 delegates and alternates. Along with Hollings and Cranston were former vice president Walter F. Mondale, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado and former Florida governor Reubin Askew. Missing were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was home campaigning, and Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, who had a longstanding commitment.
Judging from the comments of many delegates, it's good that the nomination will not be decided for nearly two years.
Louise Schroeder of Banquette, Texas, was standing a few feet from Askew at a coffee for the aspirants. As she sized him up, other delegates wandered by, looking slightly puzzled and asking, "Who's he? Where's he from?"
Schroeder said she wasn't sure whom she favored for the nomination, but was distinctly cool to Mondale and Kennedy. "This one looks good. I'll have to talk to him," she said, motioning to Askew. "And this Hart fellow, I want to talk to him. That's why I wanted to come up here."
What happened here was a rough rerun of the party's June mini-convention in Philadelphia. It is likely to be repeated regularly in the months ahead -- politics by applause meter.
The candidates were paraded before the delegates this morning, given 15 minutes to strut their wares, and shuffled off stage.
Of those in attendance, the most popular clearly was Mondale, who has traveled to Texas 15 times in the last 18 months and is running well with many of the regular party types.
Mondale had the crowd roaring with a speech ripping President Reagan and the Republicans' economic program, terming it "bad medicine that's making us sicker, that's weakening our country, that's undermining our future."
"What do you do when you go to a doctor and he makes you sicker every time? I think it's time to change doctors, get some new medicine and put this country back on course again."
Hart, who shook the hand of nearly every delegate here, opened the morning attack on the president, saying "there is nothing decent about an administration that attacks inflation by putting 10 million people out of work." He also pumped his high-tech theme. "The economy of the future is big enough to provide jobs and growth for everyone." he said. "It's the economy of the past that isn't."
In his speech, Hollings dismissed Hart's emphasis on high technology. "Don't give me this robotics stuff," he said. "We've got to go back to work." And later he remarked, "You can't deliver wheat on an optic fiber."
Askew's speech was notable in that it did not attack Reagan. The most emotional moment came as he deplored factionalism.
Cranston seemed unfazed at receiving only eight votes in an informal newspaper poll of 629 delegates. "I am convinced . . . that the Democratic nomination is absolutely wide open." he said.