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Waiting their turn

THE convention that started as Jesse Jackson's has ended as Michael Dukakis's and signaled a democratic turn to the center, where the real campaign will be waged. Like a free-spirit entrepreneur who finally breaks down and puts on a necktie before going to see his banker because he really needs the loan, the Democrats are muting some of the rhetoric that has scared off voters before. And they had forsworn from the outset doing anything so radical as putting a woman on the ticket again.

But where does that leave some of the traditional constituencies of the Democratic Party - blacks and other minorities, and women? Do they have confidence in this ticket?

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For now they're waiting their turn. The breadth of the appeal of the Jackson agenda has surely been impressed on party leaders. But that agenda has a better chance of being acted upon, however gradually, with Mr. Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen on the ticket and clearly in charge of the campaign, than otherwise.

``I will not be taken for granted!'' exclaims a button worn by a black woman outside the convention hall in Atlanta. But the reality is that blacks remain a group that the Democrats can count on.

They are clearly not going to vote for George Bush, nor are they likely just to stay away from the polls. Blacks have been voting in proportionately larger numbers of late, particularly in the Midwest.

That cannot be said of Hispanics, which is why their vote will be less significant than demographics would suggest. They are thrilled to have not just one but two Spanish-speakers running. But many Hispanics are not citizens. Among those who are, poor registration and turnout rates prevail, particularly among women, raised to believe that politics is something men do.

American women in general of course have no such reluctance. The gender gap cuts both ways - men abandoning the Democrats as women flock to them.

But some 10 million more women than men are expected to vote in the presidential race. This should give the Democrats a certain demographic edge. Women's groups are rallying to the Democratic ticket, and even Jackson adviser Ann Lewis is finding reasons to be enthusiastic about conservative Senator Bentsen.

There are two ways to wait for a bus. When the bus stop is well marked and the locals have lined up hopefully, one can wait with confidence even with no bus in sight. Not so when there is no sign or schedule posted, or at best an old and faded one, and no other would-be passenger is there for company.

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Over the past eight years some traditional constituents of the Democratic Party have wondered whether the bus route has been changed, or even whether the bus company has gone bankrupt.

Even with a Dukakis administration in 1989 some groups would have to wait. But it would be the first kind of waiting and not the second.

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