DESPITE the litter-strewn streets, the high-priced hotel rooms, and the ominous threat of Ross Perot, Democrats are rumbling into New York City this week in high spirits for their national presidential convention.
Ron Brown, the party chairman, said at a luncheon meeting with reporters that Democrats are more united than at any time in two decades.
House Speaker Thomas Foley calls this "a convention of unity and enthusiasm." At a breakfast with reporters on Sunday, he suggested that the ticket of Gov. Bill Clinton and Sen. Al Gore, "the youngest ticket in the history of the country," will have particular appeal to a new generation of voters.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose help is needed to rally black and ethnic voters, indicates he will do what he can to support the all-Southern, Clinton-Gore team, even though he complains that its appeal is too narrow.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown of California, the only active opponent left to Mr. Clinton, still won't say kind words about the Arkansas governor. But since Mr. Brown has only about 600 delegates, party leaders dismiss his ability to make trouble.
Meanwhile, Democrats are jubilant that, as they perfect their platform and acclaim their ticket, President Bush and undeclared candidate Perot are "apparently intent on decapitating each other," as chairman Brown puts it. "We are perfectly satisfied to see [that fight] going on," he says.
Although some party heads, such as former chairman John White of Texas, fretted about the Democrats' future a few months ago, they insist the outlook has brightened in recent days.
During the last two or three weeks, confidence has risen, Mr. White says. Polls are showing that the negative opinions many American voters had about Clinton are declining.
White insists that were it not for the negative publicity Clinton got during the primaries, he would be "far ahead" of President Bush today.
And even after the media barrage about Clinton's personal life and alleged draft-dodging, the presidential race right now is basically a three-way, Bush-Perot-Clinton tie, White says.
Helped by the convention, Clinton may break that tie during the next few days, White insists.
Meanwhile, White urges his fellow Democrats to run a positive campaign this fall. There's been too much negative campaigning, he says, and voters are turned off by it.
Also turned off are the three major television networks, and that is one major remaining concern for the Democrats.
Every four years, candidates hope for a huge "bump" upward from their conventions, helped by night-after-night of exposure on prime-time TV.
President Jimmy Carter, for example, leaped 18 points in the polls in 1980. Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988 briefly moved well ahead of Vice-President Bush in the presidential race after the Democratic convention in Atlanta.
This time, the networks have vowed to cut back sharply on coverage, with one network even promising to air the all-star baseball game rather than the convention on Tuesday night.
Chairman Brown hopes if the networks do short-change the convention, it won't hurt too much. He told reporters:
"Not as many people watch network TV as they used to. So there are many alternatives: cable, independents, local television, CNN....
"Secondly, when we started out this process, the networks said they weren't going to cover it at all.... Then they said they would cover for an hour. Then they said they'd cover, but their anchors wouldn't be in Madison Square Garden, they'd do it from studios. Then they said they'd cover an hour and a half. Then they said it depends on what the program is. I would expect we'll have good, solid network coverage."