Delegates Split Over Issues



Filed at 4:26 a.m. EDT

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A few union leaders sit at one table. At another are a smattering of farmers.

The entire Indiana delegation rises united from danishes and coffee to applaud the calls to elect Al Gore. But don't think for a moment that the differences between union workers and farmers are forgotten.

Free trade leaves a deep schism between these party stalwarts -- and similar divides run through delegations at this four-day lovefest, from gun control in Pennsylvania to land issues in the West.

``We are a metal-bending state with a lot of farmers around the factories,'' said Indiana state Rep. Win Moses Jr., who described tough talks behind closed doors. ``It's brutal in there.'' Farmers want free trade to sell their crops overseas; workers worry their well-paid jobs will be lost to low-wage foreign workers.

Maybe the Democrats are trying to draw a clear distinction from the Republican mantra of unity in Philadelphia. Maybe they're just rowdier. Or maybe, after eight years in power, the divisions become harder to ignore.

For Republicans, whose 1992 convention was rocked with Pat Buchanan's fiery talk of cultural war, the lessons of division have been well-learned.

This year in Philadelphia, many of those from the Christian right looked past their differences with the moderate wing of the party.

``Both sides -- if you want to call them sides -- have matured to the point where each one recognizes that the other side is indispensable,'' said Karen LaBarr, a GOP delegate from Georgia.

Still, most of her time was spent with like-minded conservatives. ``It's natural to kind of buddy up with the people you know.''

The Republicans, while showcasing the diversity the party is seeking, left little opportunity for discussing different views. Democrats, however, couldn't avoid it -- even though they also kept their platform squarely in the center, despite those that disagreed on trade, the death penalty, abortion.

Pennsylvania delegates gritted their teeth while they heard, once again, the views of a vocal minority that wants Democrats to back off stricter gun control.

``A vote against trigger locks and background checks is really a vote against the children in our cities,'' said Pennsylvania state Sen. Allyson Schwartz. ``I wish all of us Democrats were on the same page.''

But state Rep. Bill DeWeese, who brags that his voting record mirrors National Rifle Association policy, sees it differently. ``This is supposed to be the forum for differing views to be heard and folded into the greater consciousness of our party,'' he said.

The sometimes clashing views among Democrats is traditional, said G. Terry Madonna, who directs the Center for Politics & Public Affairs at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

``This is just the nature of the party,'' he said. ``Less disciplined, more rowdy.'' Republicans traditionally are more unified, and even more so since they've been out of power for eight years, he said.

Among the delegations here, disputes don't stop those on opposite sides from talking.

Terry Thurman, a Union of Auto Workers regional director in Indiana, said it's all about what can be achieved.

``Regardless of the differences we have with the Democratic Party, they're still a much, much better party for us,'' he said. ``The Democratic Party at least listens to us.''

Charlie Cook, who is convinced free trade agreements already are helping Indiana farmers like him, can't help but see the union point of view.

Besides working his 600-acre family farm in southeastern Indiana, he's also a member of a machinist's union.