Today's Rising Democratic Stars

Speakers Bayh, Morales, and Gantt paint a diverse portrait of the party

The Democratic convention is where the party showcases not only its leadership but also some of its up-and-comers. Among those taking the podium tonight will be a Midwestern governor with rock-star popularity ratings, the first Hispanic in Texas to win a major party nomination for the US Senate, and a black architect running for the Senate in a South tilting away from its Democratic roots.

Bayh on Hoosier High

If Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh gets his usual reception before giving the Democratic convention's keynote speech tonight, observers might be excused for mistaking the politician for a rock star.

Back in his home state, the Hoosier governor is often greeted at public events by a big passel of shouting fans thrusting out pens and autograph pads.

"When Governor Bayh walks into a crowd, it's like the reaction to a rock star. It's incredible,'' says Brian Vargus, director of the public opinion laboratory at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

Throughout his two four-year terms in office, the popularity rating of the fair-faced governor has remained remarkably high - above 60 percent and at times rising into the 70s.

Even better for the Democrats, Bayh's celestial approval comes from traditionally solid GOP territory. Bayh is the only Democratic governor in the eight states of the Great Lakes, a make-or-break region in the November presidential election.

And Bayh is showing his party a way to reconcile the often-opposing aims of traditional social progressivism with strict fiscal austerity.

"Bayh has exemplified what President Clinton refers to as the 'New Democrat': fiscally conservative and socially moderate,'' says Mr. Vargus, a professor of political science. "In many respects he has worked more closely with the Republican part of the legislature than he has with the Democrats."

The governor has stirred the most support by turning the wreckage of the state's budget into a nearly $2 billion annual surplus without once raising taxes. In fact, he cut a much-loathed auto-excise tax.

Bayh, the son of former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, has worked closely with the Republican superintendent of schools in education reform and with the GOP legislature in welfare reform.

"He is the perfect vehicle for Bill Clinton to highlight the fact that Democrats are looking at new and different ways to effect change in the country," says Kip Tew, chairman of the Indianapolis Democratic Party.

Liberals resentful of Bayh's pragmatism sometimes refer to him as a "Republicrat."

"The GOP both hates him and loves him - they hate him because he has the statehouse, but a number of well-placed people in the GOP say, 'If I were in his shoes, I would probably be backing the same legislation,' " says Vargus.

-- James L. Tyson

Pickup-Truck Politician

Few politicians would go to a Reform Party convention and have fun at the expense of Ross Perot. But that's just what Victor Morales did Saturday in Austin, Texas, and it may be one reason the high school civics teacher from Mesquite is Texas's Democratic nominee for the US Senate.

Mr. Morales told the Texas Reform Party convention that he did not support the flat tax because "a 15 percent hit on Ross Perot is not the same as a hit on me." The delegates laughed and, at the end of the speech, gave Morales a standing ovation.

In getting this far, Morales has proved that politics-as-usual does not apply to him. He won the nomination in April after spending less than $60,000. His opponent spent five times that amount.

Now Morales faces incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, whose war chest holds more than $3.5 million. Morales, meanwhile, has about $200,000 in the bank.

Morales, who is refusing money from political action committees, has turned his lack of funding into a campaign theme, asking voters if Senator Gramm could "run a US Senate campaign on a high school teacher's salary."

Morales continues to campaign in his white 1992 Nissan pickup, which carried him more than 60,000 miles during the Democratic primary. "I'm not going to have the money for commercials," says Morales. "That means I have to get out and meet the people."

His success to date, and the national exposure being given him in Chicago, is seen as an indicator of the importance of the Hispanic vote. This is a traditional Democratic constituency and one of the fastest growing minority groups in the nation.

Speaking tonight, Morales will have an opportunity to introduce himself to millions of Texans who are otherwise unlikely to see him on television. And as is his practice, Morales is expected to ad-lib his remarks.

The teacher, who is the first minority to win a major party nomination for US Senate in Texas history, is relying heavily on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has provided staffing and infrastructure to his campaign. If Morales can keep the race competitive through the fall, the committee may legally contribute as much as $1.6 million to his election effort.

Gramm, who spent $28.7 million earlier this year in a failed bid for the White House, is not taking Morales lightly. Polls have shown Gramm leading the challenger by 14 percentage points.

Morales refuses to believe the pollsters. "I'm much closer than that," he insists.

- Robert Bryce

Gantt: New South Symbol?

Senate candidate Harvey Gantt will take to the stage tonight as a symbol of African-American success and the face of today's South.

The accomplished architect, best known nationally for his loss to Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina in 1990, will speak as a minority involved in one of this year's toughest campaign fights.

He's expected to deliver a can-do message with a vision of government as a partner to citizens who take responsibility for their lives. It's a subject he knows well.

Mr. Gantt's life is a testament to overcoming adversity and prejudice. Neither of his parents graduated from high school, yet he earned his master's degree in urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was the first black student to attend Clemson University in his home state of South Carolina and the first black mayor of Charlotte, N.C.

To many, the fact that Gantt has the tenacity to run again against Senator Helms - and that he soundly defeated his moderate, white Democratic primary challenger - speaks more about him than does his earlier defeat. Polls show Gantt trails Helms by 6 percentage points.

Gantt's narrow defeat in 1990 and the close race this time around also sketch a telling picture of the South.

Gantt is running for Senate in a state that - like much of the South - is voting more Republican than in the past but is also in the midst of balancing its agricultural past with a more high-tech future. The South's population is growing - and shifting. Many of the more urban and suburban areas are being settled by migrs from other parts of the country and the world.

"Physically, Gantt represents the new South," says Thad Beyle, professor of politics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "He's a black man who not only is a success in terms of ... education, but he's a successful businessman and has been mayor of one of the largest cities in the South."

- Christina Nifong

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