Convetion Diary: Conga-dance and confetti for the 'Comeback Kid'

NO MEXICAN waves so far, but the mood on the terraces of the Madison Square Garden, home to the New York Knicks basketball team, is definitely that of a first-league sporting occasion.

Members of the Texas delegation have got together, though, to demonstrate their party enthusiasm by occasionally holding aloft a huge rectangle of placards that together proclaim support for Bill Clinton. Flipped over, the cards read: 'It's Time for a New Generation'. Meanwhile, high in the rafters flutters the famous number 24 Knicks shirt of a former star player, Bill Bradley, now the senator from New Jersey and keynote speaker at the convention.

One ingredient of the sporting night out is missing, however. While franchises in the halls surrounding the arena are doing a brisk trade in the obligatory hot dogs and popcorn, only Pepsi and Coke are allowed inside the hall. Budweiser is banned. But Democrats, it seems, have little need of booze to get worked up and excited. As the week reaches its climax, the mass of well-cast 'Middle Americans' - a pretty convincing cross-section of teachers, factory workers, white-collar professionals, some very old, some very young (there are even a few babies around, looking numbed by the commotion) - are well into the carnival spirit.

The surprise appearance on the floor on Wednesday of Mr Clinton - now formally christened the 'Comeback Kid' by Governor Mario Cuomo - after confirmation of his nomination, found your diarist fighting to stay vertical - and dispassionate - amidst a blizzard of cooking-foil confetti and a stampede of conga- dancing delegates. 'Enjoy it. The Republican convention (in Houston, next month) won't be half as much fun,' one party man shouted in my ear.

The dress code, too, has become noticeably less formal through the week, with delegates who were fresh and zealous at the start, now opting for the holiday, too-hot-for-jackets look and wearing ties only if they are silly. The cheekiest T-shirt spotted so far declares: 'Bush Lies'. In brackets underneath, it adds, '(And Barbara Gets on Top)'.

Delegates from the dairy state of Wisconsin brandish 'Eat Cheese or Die' stickers and wear giant cheese-shaped hats. A Brown fan has scrawled her slogans on the bottom of her socks. On the left foot: 'Save the Soul of the Party', and on the right: 'Sock it to them, Jerry'.

It is undress that is causing New York police palpitations outside the Garden, where 'exotic dancers' - striptease artists - from the nearby Goldfingers night club have been attempting to draw convention custom by jiggling their wares on the back of flat-bed lorries cruising 7th and 8th Avenues. One woman was arrested after succumbing to the goadings of a knot of all-male pavement enthusiasts and freeing the laces on her stars-and-stripes bikini top. Torrential rain and lightning on Wednesday finally forced all the strippers to cover up and flee.

It has been a bemusing week for 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton, now being paraded relentlessly alongside her parents as part of the carefully orchestrated effort to portray her father as the 'family values' candidate. On Tuesday, Chelsea strained her knee climbing the steps of the Statue of Liberty and had to be returned to the Clintons' hotel in a wheelchair. Limping only slightly, she appeared more bewildered than ecstatic accompanying her triumphant Dad on to the convention floor on Wednesday. Will she be the first President's daughter named after a London borough? British media wags have taken to calling her Tower Hamlets.

The other First Family of the Democratic Party - the Kennedy clan - played centre-stage on Wednesday with a moving tribute to the former presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, assassinated in 1968, like his brother Jack five years before him. Such was the adoration, few stopped to raise eyebrows at sections in Teddy's speech extolling the dignity of women and fanning support for abortion rights.

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