Sizing up why DNC is different this year

North Hempstead Town Supervisor, Jon Kaiman attends the

North Hempstead Town Supervisor, Jon Kaiman attends the New York State Democratic delegation breakfast at the Doubletree, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Sept. 4, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Change has come, all right -- to the early tone of the Democratic convention.

North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, a delegate here, acknowledged "something different in the air" from the party's historic 2008 gathering in Denver.


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For one thing, Kaiman, like most of the state's other elected Democrats, was chosen four years ago as a delegate for failed candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

She'd already conceded in the primaries to fellow Sen. Barack Obama. But even in Denver, symbolic questions lingered over how New York would cast its delegate votes -- which "created a little bit of tension and electricity," Kaiman recalled.

"Now we're in a different role. We're defending what's happening," Kaiman said.

Another delegate, State Sen. Bill Perkins, sat Tuesday on a couch at a Hilton Hotel, waiting for a bus to the convention hall about 10 miles away. He, too, was at the last DNC, as the only Harlem elected official who hadn't first endorsed Clinton before switching to Obama.

Re-election races are different, he noted. "He's kept the ship from sinking and I think he gets credit for that," Perkins said of Obama, noting GOP efforts to "cripple his presidency." Perkins added that, "There's more to be done. We have not had the change that we ultimately want, but we are on the right road."

Hope-and-change mantras seemed to have sky-high potential in 2008.

Now it's a narrower hope that the White House won't change hands.

"There's a recognition that this is a tougher political climate than Democrats would like to have," said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who recalled the excitement of the Hillary Clinton presence. "But there's also the value of coming together, getting energized from hearing from folks in other states."

The former U.S. senator, of course, is now Secretary of State -- and is in China for high-level meetings this week. Tonight, former President Bill Clinton addresses the convention on Obama's behalf, which is for partisans one of the more anticipated moments of the week.

The convention of the 'in' party has convened second, as is traditional, and this has given the Democrats a target to attack, based on last week's GOP rhetoric in Tampa, where the "hope" and "change" cant of four years ago came in for vigorous mocking.

Sen. Charles Schumer said he was glad that Romney picked Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate for vice president because it "draws the lines" between the parties more clearly.

"In 2008 it was a new candidate, obviously the first African-American, a lot of hope, a lot of excitement," Schumer said. "But I think in a certain sense this convention's more important . . . I don't think we'll get a huge bounce out of this convention, but I think it will predicate that we are the party much more able to . . . convince the middle class that we will make life better for them."

"The tone is a little more defensive than it was the last time," said Jay Jacobs, Nassau party chairman and former state chairman. "But I think we're seeing a growing sense of enthusiasm."

Dismissing Republican descriptions of the United States as worse off than four years ago, Jacobs said: "Are they kidding? Do they remember what it was like in the fall of 2008 when the economy was collapsing? . . . We have survived a near-catastrophe because of the actions of this president."