Different Voices, Same Message

AMONG the faithful at Madison Square Garden here this week, winning the White House is all. More than last time. More than in recent memory.

It is driving a hard-headed pragmatism; delegates willing to suspend differences to a degree many couldn't recall before.

It is also driving an apparent shift toward the ideological center. Some welcome it; some accept the need for moderation to win; and some hope it is only a campaign posture.

The delegates are far more liberal than most Democrats in the country.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 52 percent of the delegates call themselves liberal compared with 34 percent of Democrats overall.

Many very different voices filled the hall this week, united by an overriding desire to oust the Republicans from the White House. Here is a sample of those voices:

"I like what Brown's been saying," said Columbus Carr, a retired black Clinton delegate from Oroville, Calif. "But we need a man who can win. Clinton's the man who can win."

Calif. Rep. Howard Berman says: "We've got two candidates that are clearly in the mainstream." He sees the shift as fundamental. "There's a fundamental reality the Democratic Party has caught up with, and that is the bankruptcy of the welfare cycle and the primacy of economic growth. I don't know why that's a shift to the right." "We're turning to common sense," said James Carville, a top Clinton strategist, as he roamed the aisles. "I don't call it turning to the right."

Illinois Sen. Paul Simon hopes that Clinton uses a Franklin Roosevelt strategy and becomes a more activist president on behalf of the poor than his campaign would suggest.

"I think it's pretty evident the party is shifting to the right," said Larry Lewis, a United Auto Workers union official from Detroit and a Jerry Brown delegate. Mr. Lewis, who is black, was a Jesse Jackson delegate in 1988.

He does not agree with Clinton on some issues, "But when Bill Clinton is elected to the White House of the United States, those of us who are to the left of him may be able to talk to him," he said. "For the last 12 years, we haven't been able to get onto the grass."

In the days after the Democratic convention, he added, "I would hope we go out as a united party with blinders on that we're going to beat George Bush ... and get into the White House."

Marge Burke, a farmer from Sand Fork, W.Va., and former majority leader in the West Virginia statehouse, was an Al Gore delegate in 1988. She is a moderate and sees a new moderate face on her party. She especially approves of what she perceives to be very strong family values in the ticket. She is not concerned about public questions about Clinton's sexual morality.

"I'm an old-fashioned, naive woman. I've been married for 40 years, and there's never been anybody for me but my husband. But whatever happened, if Bill and Hillary have worked it out between themselves, who am I to play God and condemn them?"

Cheryl Rivers, a Vermont state senator, is not at all certain that her party is moving to the center. "I hope not."

A new member of the Democratic National Committee, Ms. Rivers was a Jesse Jackson supporter in 1988., and she raises Morgan horses in Stockbridge, Vt.

"I think the message of Jesse Jackson and the message of Mario Cuomo was that the American people want change. And change does not mean becoming more like the Republicans."

She sees the strong environmentalism of vice presidential nominee Gore as more important than the centrist planks of the party platform.

That Clinton and Gore are both from the South may lead some to conclude they are moderates. But she, like Senator Simon, also hopes that Clinton becomes like Roosevelt, a more progressive president than his campaign forecast.

Paul Laubach, a 21-year-old Clinton delegate from Okeene, Okla., is one of the youngest at the convention.

A college agriculture student who raises Hereford cattle, Mr. Laubach believes the country desperately needs newer, younger, leadership.

The Clinton-Gore ticket will run very well in his region, he says. "People down here perceive the pair as leaning somewhat conservative on issues.

Carol Vargas, a finance professional from Claymont, Del., was originally a Paul Tsongas supporter. She would like to see some of the stern specifics from the Clinton campaign that Mr. Tsongas offered up.

"But I don't think the Democratic leaders trust the public, otherwise they would speak more honestly about what needs to be done for the economy.

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