The television image of Gov. Gray Davis basking in chants of "four more years" offered no hint of the trouble he faced this weekend at a Los Angeles hotel crammed with Democratic Party loyalists.
For all the cheers, Davis has disappointed some Democratic stalwarts, and many delegates at the state party convention that ended Sunday were open about their lack of enthusiasm.
Delegate Ted Roy, a Barstow teacher, gave Davis a "C" for overall job performance.
"I wouldn't consider voting for a Republican, but I might vote for somebody from the Green Party," Roy said.
The disaffection of Roy, an African American, reflects one of the biggest challenges facing Davis in his quest for reelection: to shore up his flagging support among blacks, Latinos, union members and other core Democratic constituencies.
Fewer than half of the governor's fellow Democrats are committed to supporting him in the November election, according to a Los Angeles Times poll taken last month.
"There's no question that Gray Davis is in a vulnerable position," said Democratic strategist Darry Sragow.
In a sense, Davis' quandary is similar to the one faced by his leading adversary among California Republicans, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Both politicians enjoy their strongest support among moderate members of their own party, and both have trouble energizing more ideological party loyalists.
For Riordan, the issue is more acute, as he faces a primary challenge from two conservative Republicans, financier Bill Simon Jr. and Secretary of State Bill Jones.
But even for Davis, who is effectively unopposed in the Democratic primary, the support of the party's base will be important for him to prevail in November. Party loyalists tend to vote with greater frequency, and even if they are unlikely to vote for a candidate from the opposite party, candidates generally cannot afford to give them a reason to sit out an election.
At the convention Saturday, Davis attributed his tepid support among Democrats to California's energy crisis. He said he was so consumed by the struggle to avert blackouts last year that he was unable to tend to his political base.
"We didn't do all the things you would normally do, which is run around and tout your record, pat yourself on the back and tell people what you've done," he said. "Now, we are telling our story."
Among the highlights, he said, were a rise in school test scores and expansion of health insurance for children.
Davis also blamed his relatively low popularity on ads his political opponents ran last year on radio and television attacking him for his handling of the energy crisis, as well as the recent storm of criticism from Jones, Riordan and Simon.
"When three people are running against you, saying you're responsible for everything from athlete's foot to the drought, it takes its toll," he said.
Also problematic, Davis allies said, is his admitted lack of charisma.
"Gray has never been and never will be Mr. Personality," said state Democratic Chairman Art Torres.
Making matters worse for Davis is the $12-billion state budget shortfall that has forced him to propose cuts in popular programs amid his reelection campaign.
The consequences were clear at the Democratic convention. Roy, a special education teacher at Barstow Middle School, was annoyed at job-training cuts that Davis proposed. Wayne Barela, a Solano County delegate, faulted Davis for postponing an expansion of the children's health insurance program so that parents will also qualify.
"He may have sold out on that one," Barela said.
Strategists said the centrist governor has suffered from unduly high expectations among liberals who thought that he would pursue a more progressive agenda than he actually had promised in his 1998 campaign.
But during the last year, Davis has taken a number of steps to appeal to the party's base. He ended a self-imposed moratorium on new gun control laws by signing legislation requiring a safety exam and license to buy a handgun. He signed another measure making it a state crime to threaten abortion clinics and approved a proposal to put a $2.6-billion parks bond measure on the March 5 ballot.
On Friday, Davis signed legislation to increase the benefits paid to California workers injured on the job. The measure was a top priority for organized labor, a group that has strongly supported Davis but has been frustrated by his resistance to other parts of its agenda.
Davis had vetoed previous versions of the worker's compensation measure three times. But at the convention, labor delegates were effusive over his reversal.
"Gray Davis has been wonderful for workers," said Chester Wasko Jr., a Long Beach crane operator and a leader of Operating Engineers Local 12. "I work with people that have been crushed in cave-ins on the job. This will help their families survive."
Indeed, despite the discontent with Davis among Democrats, many still voiced full support. On energy, in particular, many gave him credit for making the best of a bad situation.
"He's been a victim of the Texas oil people," said Humberto Lujan of Norwalk, an avionics technician.
"He was set up," he said. "We're dealing with some very intelligent people within the corporate structure who are trying to do him in, because he's a great threat to the Bush administration, and they want to make him look as bad as they can."
Longtime Democratic strategist Joe Cerrell said that once the Republicans choose a challenger in the March 5 primary, the Democratic Party base is likely to rally behind Davis--no matter how reluctantly.
"When it comes right down to it," he said, "they have no choice."