WASHINGTON — Washington. -- A few months ago, when the media were hammering on ''the character issue,'' I thought Gov. Bill Clinton was one of the unluckiest politicians of our time. Now, on the eve of the Democratic national convention, I see him as one of the luckiest.
Mr. Clinton has had a June that a saint could not have prayed for. His standing in the polls has risen, even as those of President Bush and H. Ross Perot have fallen.
A large jump in unemployment has virtually wiped out any chance of strong enough economic recovery before November to enable President Bush to convince voters of light at the bottom of the economic dungeon.
With some 17 million Americans unemployed or involuntarily half-employed, some 50 million Americans are truly suffering and inclined to blame it on the Reagan-Bush years.
They have a question to supplant the line Mr. Bush and President Reagan used in campaigns, ''Are you better off today than you were four years ago?''
They are asking President Bush, ''What do you promise to do in four more years that will give us economic hope that you did not or could not do in your first four years?''
Mr. Clinton can accept the Democratic nomination with the knowledge that an incumbent president who was poised for a coronation because he seemed unbeatable a year ago has been reduced to fits of pique by the criticisms that come from every segment of American life.
It is arguable that Ross Perot had a worse June than Mr. Bush. There was almost nothing but negative stories about Perot the Spymaster, who allegedly probed into the private lives of business and political rivals; Perot the Rulemaker-Egoist, who allegedly had a coral reef blown up to make room for his yacht; Perot the Punisher, who allegedly sics his gumshoes on the company and people who outbid him for a contract.
Mr. Perot's free ride with the talk shows gets a little costly, with one questioner daring to refer to him as ''a pint-sized bigot.'' Millions of Americans are still saying, ''No more of Bush,'' and ''None of Clinton,'' but they have begun to ask, ''Uh-oh, is this Perot?''
Meanwhile, the nation was seeing that Mr. Clinton had no character problem to make the most distinguished Democrats shy away. The list of people eager to be his running mate became formidable.
New York Gov. Mario Cuomo agreed to put his name in nomination. Paul Tsongas endorsed him. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was gearing up for a grand declaration of support. The NEA, the nation's largest organization of teachers, embraced him with passion. The one strident holdout is former California Gov. Jerry Brown, which could help more than it hurts Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Clinton is about to become the nominee of a Democratic Party that is as close to unity as it has been since 1976.
It will need unity and a lot more in what seems to be an evenly-split, three-man contest that is bound to produce some of the ugliest campaigning the American people have seen.
All that I've written above says only that Mr. Clinton and the Democratic Party are alive again. It does not suggest that he has a real chance of winning the 270 electoral votes needed to become president. It suggests, rather, that Mr. Bush and Mr. Perot are losing their chances of winning 270 electoral votes.
All this darkens more ominously that cloud hanging over us called a presidential election in the House of Representatives.
Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.