Will the Left Coast glitter help?

It's probably too early to start talking about blunders at this 2000 edition of the Democratic convention.

People have barely settled into their seats here. Nary a punch has been thrown in the "Fight for America's Families." The protesters are presumably still putting the final touches on their caricatures of "Al Gore" and "American Greed" - something journalists here appreciate because if this thing is at all like the GOP's Philly festival we'll all soon be praying for a puppet show.

But even this early in our show you have to wonder about the location the Democrats have chosen for Al Gore's coronation.

For the past week, rumblings inside and out of the Gore campaign have concerned whether President Clinton is lingering in the spotlight too long, overshadowing his heir apparent.

There was Mr. Clinton's speech last week that again dredged up Monica-gate and gave the networks the opportunity to run footage of Clinton's infamous ropeline hugs with America's favorite over-lip-sticked, Jenny Craig client.

And reports are that Clinton, who spoke last night, had lobbied to speak tonight instead, hoping he'd get higher ratings. He was eventually talked into last night after being assured he'd get better viewership on the heels of the Rams-Titans game. (Anyone wanting to understand how few people watch these conventions take note: Clinton is banking on preseason football for a ratings boost.)

But if putting Clinton behind the party was a key objective of this convention, the biggest question is why choose Los Angeles in the first place.

Granted this city has a lot to offer the Democrats. California is the nation's biggest electoral prize. This city is incredibly diverse, racially and economically. And it offers Mr. Gore the opportunity to contrast the positive changes the city has seen in the last eight years with the riots that rocked it following the Rodney King verdict in 1992.

It has two large disadvantages though.

First, L.A.'s biggest industry, entertainment, is one the GOP's and the public's favorite whipping boys. Rightly or wrongly, voters seem to appreciate when candidates express outrage at Hollywood's contribution to moral decay - even as they scurry to the box office to see its products.

This will be hard to do here. How does one attack Hollywood and then go hang with "Pulp Fiction" director Quentin Tarantino or Barbra Streisand - heavy hitters on the party schedule this week.

The Democrats already had one minor celebrity-related blow-up.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) of California was forced to move a fund-raiser she had planned to hold at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion after party officials questioned the wisdom of mixing bunnies and money.

The other reason L.A. is a bad choice for Gore's coming out party is that the city is such a big fan of our current president. He's the toast of tinsel-town. Even as he criticizes the entertainment industry, Hollywood remains one of his biggest backers. He has the kind of charisma that in Hollywood parlance gets people to return his calls.

Out here even Bill and Hillary's relationship problems are less of a demonizing force than a humanizing one. After all, an older man having an affair with an underling may be called "scandal" inside the Beltway, but it is called "casting" out here.

Gore, on the other hand, is not an L.A. kind of guy.

His wife has railed against the music industry. He is not "cool" or "relaxed." And though he may be handsome, "larger than life" is not the first phrase that comes to mind when people discuss his persona.

And because of all that, this convention, which promises to be chock full of celebrities - some on stage and many more off - is a test for Gore.

Too often Gore seems to be trying on personae. He is the over-caffeinated, fist-pumping Gore or the wannabe-Bill-Clinton Gore. When he finally arrives here tomorrow, he needs to stop running away from being himself.

Al Gore is pure Washington by way of Tennessee. His delivery is more suited to a congressional hearing room than an L.A. stage. The thing is, that's OK if it's honest. This is what Gore needs to understand. After eight years of Rock-Star-in-Chief, America may be ready for the solid, stable approach.

That's what Gore is promising in his speech Thursday. It remains to be seen if he'll deliver. In the meantime, though, this city and its atmosphere do nothing but create more of a challenge.

Getting off the plane on Sunday, you could hear the delegates talk. They were bringing the excited, energized attitude the Democratic National Committee is looking for. Unfortunately, they were talking about Jimmy Smits and Barbra.

All of which suggests that even if the Gore campaign gets its wish and Clinton indeed leaves early this morning, his shadow, in the form of the HOLLYWOOD on the hill here, will remain.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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