On stage, the convention’s unfolding seamlessly. The speeches are slick, the messages managed masterfully and the love-fest strong enough to sweeten your morning coffee.
But away from the podium, concerns about Barack Obama and the future of the party have even some dedicated Democrats saying openly that they think the election’s lost.
"I don’t think he’s going to win," said Sandy Cleary, an Ohio delegate and Hillary Clinton supporter.
She said she will vote for Obama — though she’s not happy about it. "Obama’s not my cup of tea, but I’ll vote for him for the party’s sake," she said.
In their speeches and public statements, leaders of the party have synchronized their statements on one message — Obama is the man to fix the economy. And they describe reshaping the political landscape, developing a Democratic stronghold in western states. Underneath the public statements, the discussion’s not as positive.
Though Hillary Clinton has repeatedly cast her support to Obama and Bill Clinton was slated to do the same Wednesday night, it’s not apparent that conservative Democrats will listen.
"People don’t trust him," Cleary said from the convention floor. "He’s inexperienced."
Clearly, Cleary’s not alone.
Some 30 percent of HIllary Clinton’s 18-million voters either have switched their allegiance to John McCain or are undecided, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, based on a three-day survey of 1,000 U.S. adults.
Part of it is racism, some Democrats say. Helen McClain knows Democrats in her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, who won’t vote for Obama. "The older people are just not that into Obama because he’s black."
Since late July, support from conservative Democrats has declined from 72 percent to 63 percent, based on a weekly average of daily polls that each include at least 1,000 U.S. adults. Obama and McCain are in a dead heat in the national poll, and Obama has yet to receive the expected convention "bounce" of popular approval.
Of course, not all Obama supporters think he’s going to spend the next four years as a U.S. senator. "This is going to be a close election," said Steve Norris, of the Denver suburb of Westminster.
But dissent here has been stifled. The head of the Ohio Democratic Party, Chris Redfern, told Cleary and other Clinton supporters last week that they would have delegate credentials revoked if they publicly said they planned to vote for McCain.
"The Democrats have to wake up and smell the coffee," said Carla Mays, a California delegate. "They need to get on board with senator Obama."
Her biggest fear is that Democrats "hanging onto the old guard" are going to keep Democrats from winning. "They need to know there’s a new man in town," Mays said. "Everybody needs to be riding the O-train."
(E-mail Isaac Wolf at wolfi(at)shns.com.)