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Election 2000
Democratic National Convention
Mike Dukakis
Mike Dukakis at the DNC, 1988.
Conventions Past:
The Past is Prologue
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Conventions Past
1988: The ‘Seven Dwarfs’ and Bill Clinton’s Windy Speech

The march to the 1988 Democratic nomination began with no less than seven candidates for presidents. The crowded field seemed a group of equals at first -- and some pundits derided them as "the seven dwarves."

But as challengers like Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt fell by the wayside, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis slowly piled up delegates with strong showings in primary elections.

By the time the candidates reached Atlanta in July, there was no question Dukakis was the man who would challenge Republican Vice President George Bush for the White House.

At the jam-packed Omni Arena, conventioneers were elevated by the Rev. Jesse Jackson's call to "keep hope alive." The civil rights leader had finished second in the running to Dukakis during the primary season.

The crowd was also invigorated by Sen. Edward Kennedy's "Where was George?" speech, which lampooned the vice president's declaration that he was "out of the loop" on the Iran-Contra scandal and other Reagan-era controversies.

Then there was the keynote address by a rising political star from the south. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was seen by many as a man who could be president someday. The Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law graduate was well known within the party, but the Atlanta speech was his first opportunity for national exposure.

As it turned out, his keynote address was long-winded and policy-laden, lasting for far more than an hour. Some delegates nodded off and others crept out of the hall as Clinton kept talking. As he prepared to wind up his remarks, a roar of relief erupted from those who had stayed to the end.

audio button Hear Clinton's remarks.

The "in conclusion" speech -- which Clinton still jokes about -- obviously did little to harm his political career. Four years later he would be the party's nominee.

At the time of the Atlanta convention, it didn't seem likely that Clinton would be in the running for the White House quite so quickly. Dukakis was leading Vice President George Bush by 20 points in national polls.

But Dukakis and his running mate, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, watched the lead dissolve as the campaign entered the fall. And come November, the "Boston-Austin" connection's road to Washington had been cut off by the Bush-Quayle express.


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