They were here with brave faces and dashed hopes, listening to speeches they hoped to make, watching the coronation they fought to win. They were the also-rans of 1988, and they had other plans for the week.
"Obviously there are mixed feelings," said Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, who gave up his Democratic primary campaign April 7 after washing out in Wisconsin. "You'd like to be where Mike is."Gov. Michael Dukakis Thursday night gave the victory speech that capped his long fight for the party's nomination. A year ago he was with the rest of them: scrabbling for serious attention, ridiculed for lacking stature.
He gained both by outlasting his opponents, and all but Sen. Joseph Biden, who was home in Delaware recovering from surgery on an aneurysm near his brain, were on hand to see him claim the spoils. They did so ungrudgingly, most with expressions of support but with a tinge of wistfulness at what might have been.
"I enjoyed it. I had a great time," Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee said, looking back on his 10-month campaign. He called it quits on April 21, whipped in New York and $2.1 million in debt.
There are pitfalls other than too little time, as the vanquished veterans will attest. Few started earlier than Gary Hart, who finished second in 1984 and was favored to win this time.
A dalliance with a model spelled the Hart campaign's demise in May 1987, though he tried a comeback that sputtered through Super Tuesday before he quit, for keeps, on March 11. Hart is in Atlanta as a newspaper columnist and a commentator for Italian television.
Also switching to the other side of the notebook was former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, whose quick wit won him favorable media reviews but few votes. He hung up his campaign running shoes Feb. 18 and came to Atlanta as a newspaper and television commentator.
Babbitt was more than a spectator, though. He was a delegate pledged to Dukakis. Similarly, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who gave up his campaign March 28, was a Dukakis delegate.
Gephardt told his fellow delegates Tuesday he had a fair shot at the presidency. He ran, he said, because "I could not bear the thought of sitting on the west side of the Capitol next January, watching them swear in George Bush, and having to turn to one of my colleagues and say, `Why didn't we do something about this?' "