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Chicago should not pose problem for Democrats


WASHINGTON -- Apparently it's just a matter of dropping the other shoe for Chicago to be officially awarded the 1996 Democratic National Convention. The official announcement is expected in a matter of days, and it will have all the surprise of Hillary Clinton's endorsing her husband for a second term.

Already there is some teeth-gnashing among Democratic worrywarts that the selection will resurrect memories of the last Democratic convention in Chicago, the calamitous 1968 affair that nominated Hubert Humphrey. A presidential report later condemned what it called "a police riot" against demonstrators, most of whom were protesting President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam war policy, embraced by Humphrey.

The worriers are predicting, probably accurately, that holding the convention in Chicago will lead to television reruns of the awful scenes of Chicago police clubbing demonstrators in a park across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel, where Humphrey was staying. But those reruns will be 28 years old by that time and aren't likely to deter many voters from turning away from the Democratic nominee, assumed now to be President Clinton, on that account.

Republicans for years feared that running Richard Nixon for president after his 1960 presidential and 1962 California gubernatorial defeats would trigger television reruns of Nixon's disastrous "last press conference" after the 1982 loss in which he said the press would not have "Nixon to kick around anymore." But it never happened when he was nominated for president again in 1968. The Democrats were afraid it would only generate sympathy for Nixon, so they didn't bother.

The Democrats' choice of Chicago for 1996 was almost preordained, for several reasons. The current Democratic mayor, Richard M. Daley, is the eldest son of the late Richard J. Daley, who was mayor in 1968 and took the brunt of criticism for the police brutality exhibited at that convention. The son insists that then was then and now is now and that Chicago has nothing to live down. But the rap his city has taken over the last 26 years obviously stings him and holding the convention there in '96 is an opportunity to counter the old reputation.

More significant, the current mayor was a strong supporter of Bill Clinton in 1992, helping him to carry Illinois easily, and his younger brother, Bill Daley, was a key player for Clinton in winning congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement last year. Political IOUs are taken seriously in Chicago and the Daley brothers are holding big ones from Clinton.

But beyond that, Chicago rated selection simply because it is a great convention city by all the usual yardsticks -- centrally located in the country, plenty of first-class downtown hotels, plenty of good restaurants and other forms of entertainment and, now, a new convention center to open in September. Many delegates to Democratic national conventions pay their own way, and Chicago's location -- well-situated between the two coasts -- makes it accessible from everywhere in the country.

The city is such a natural for national conventions that the Republicans are also considering it for their '96 edition. But the Democratic Party has an exclusivity clause in its convention contract that prohibits the selected city from being host to both party conventions, so it appears the Republicans will have to go elsewhere.

Much is always made of the political potential for a presidential nominee in having the convention in this or that state, on the notion that it gives the candidate a leg up in winning that state in the fall. It seldom does. Jimmy Carter, for example, was nominated by the Democrats in New York in 1976, carried the state and was elected; he was nominated again in New York in 1980, lost the state and was defeated.

When the Democrats held their last convention in Chicago, Humphrey lost Illinois to Nixon. That fact, though, didn't stop Mayor Daley on election night 1968 from proclaiming the greatest victory in the history of the Democratic Party -- because his Cook County went Democratic. With that attitude prevailing in Chicago, the party clearly couldn't keep saying no forever.

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