Last weekend's gathering here of some 3,800 voting delegates had been billed by its sponsor, the state Democratic party, as an "issues convention." With no candidate endorsements to confer, the event looked to be the political equivalent of an orgy of eunuchs. What saved the weekend was the straw balloting on presidential nominees and the personal appearance of six presidential candidates, asking for votes and offering food, drink and autographs.
Which brings us to a rule that will guide all interpretations, between now and next year's national conventions, of all straw ballots, state conventions, and primaries: winning is coming in first. In all candidate contests, somebody wins and somebody loses. The somebody who wins is the candidate who receives more votes than any other somebody. In Springfield, former vice president Walter Mondale was the somebody who won. Let it be noted that "better than expecteds" and "Delegate-votes-won-for-dollars-spent" explanations will not be accepted.
The Democrats in the spring of 1983 are like a marriagable-age daughter being encouraged into matrimony by an earnest parent. The elder extols the qualities of the suitors, none of whom has yet excited the young woman: Thank goodness that Kennedy fellow, with Listerine on his breath and something else in his eye, is not coming around here anymore. Now take Walter Mondale: he's solvent, steady, and he doesn't go around making enemies. And John Glenn is certainly dependable and admirable; the people in his home area swear by him. And that young Hart fellow makes a wonderful appearance; he's obviously bright and not without ambition. More than once, Alan Cranston has been underestimated; he's a winner in California. Fritz Hollings is a lot more than just another pretty face; he's very bright. And don't forget Reubin Askew who has plenty of friends who think he hung the moon. Now, with all those wonderful choices, why can't you make up your mind and settle down?
Without sounding either cheap or fast, the young maiden would try to explain that she wants to feel, too. She recalls her older sisters talking about how wonderful it was to be courted by Adlai, and Jack, and Hubert when all the stars seemed brighter and you weren't in every night by 11.
In the spring of 1983, no candidate has captured the passions of the Democrats. No Democrat has a relationship with his party remotely approximating Ronald Reagan's emotional hold on the GOP. Sometimes, the only cure for lack of charisma is a string of wins, which party members can occasionally find just as captivating. Right now, Democrats want to smell the flowers and hear the birds, and no candidate is doing it for them. Nobody ever said they were a rational party.