Atlanta — THEY came, they caucused, they voted, they cheered - and now they are ready to go out and work on behalf of a Democratic victory in November. As the Democratic National Convention wound up yesterday, delegates were exhilarated by the prospects of the battle ahead.
They felt united and self-confident. Proud, too, of the harmony they had achieved.
Their faces and their words exuded an enthusiasm long absent in the Democratic fold.
``I have not seen Democrats, especially California delegates, this excited about an election for many, many years,'' said Catherine Moberly, a delegate from San Jose, Calif. ``There's a feeling that all of us are together and we're going to win. No one is down in the mouth.''
Marlene Cupp of Lincoln, Neb., attending her first convention, conveyed the buoyant mood in these words:
``The neatest thing is that I have a deep feeling that our time has come and this will work. Everyone else feels that way. There's a sense of destiny, that this time we're going to win.''
Amid the mix of emotions was also a sense of history in the making - a significant leap forward for America's blacks and the struggle for racial justice.
Commented Gaylen Nix, a lawyer from Houston, and a white Jackson delegate:
``The most significant thing is that the party has been opened up and that we have a better cross section of Democrats this time than ever before.
``Jesse was able to fire us all up to go out unified and begin to register those who are locked out and have no hope.''
For black delegates, especially, there was a poignancy in Jesse Jackson's prominent role and the warm reception accorded him. The memory of Martin Luther King Jr., buried in Atlanta, and of the civil rights movement as well as the nomination of a presidential candidate from Massachusetts echoed the 1960s and created a well of emotion in the black community.
``Jesse is to blacks now what Martin Luther King used to be in his day,'' said John S. Gray, an elderly black delegate from Houston. ``The most inspiring thing to me here was Jesse. It's something I have never seen in my life.''
Not all of the Rev. Mr. Jackson's supporters at the convention were left satisfied.
There were some tears and disappointments among Jackson delegates that ``Jesse'' is not on the ticket and, in their eyes, received less from Michael Dukakis than he deserved.
But by and large the Jacksonites are, in the words of one, ``rarin' to go.'' And while Jackson's dramatic rise to national leadership is viewed as a watershed in black political achievement, some black leaders are restrained about forecasting the clergyman's future.
``Who knows?'' said Rep. William Gray of Pennsylvania, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. ``If we win the White House in January, there's a good chance that in eight years it will not be Jesse. ... But he has taken black politics to another level and broken barriers.''
It is the broadening of the party and the embrace of diversity that is a source of pride to many Democrats. ``The most exciting thing is how the convention has come together, thanks to Jackson's leadership,'' remarked Bob Price of North Las Vegas, Nev. ``He has a lot of class.''
Sue Rosenthal, a high school teacher from Philadelphia and a Dukakis delegate, likewise saw the widening of the party as significant. ``I'm proud to be a Democrat,'' she said, ``because it has opened up not only to blacks but to women and other other minorities. And I believe it will continue to be an inclusive rather than exclusive party.''
``And despite our differences,'' said Mrs. Rosenthal, ``both sides are together. We are determined to win and we will work to win.''
In the end, it was the Democratic presidential nominee who dominated the party's traditionally zany, wild, ebullient get-together. This is important to the party's leaders, who were concerned that the Republicans might be able to capitalize on the perception of a ``three-headed'' ticket.
``The bottom line is that the nominee ultimately controlled the convention,'' remarked Charles Robb, former governor of Virginia. ``There was a lot of talk about airplanes and the like [for Jackson] but no concessions on critical issues. That's important to Dukakis's credibility and will appeal to a broader base.''
The hallmark of convention '88 turned out to be unity and togetherness. There were no rules fights, no credentials fights, and only two platform minority planks were brought to a floor vote. (The two Jackson planks were defeated.)
``You have to go back in history a long time before you find a convention with this much unity,'' said Congressman Gray.
To the sober-headed, the road ahead will not be easy. The election fight is expected to be a tough one. But the tired, jubilant delegates go home determined to mobilize Democratic voters and expectant of success.
Iola Mcgowan, a black superdelegate from Chicago, showed no doubts when she exclaimed with fervor: ``We're going into November as winners. The Democratic Party will take over the White House.''