In lauding Kerry, speakers seek swing voters

Themes of change, diversity, moderation, optimism prevail

Election 2004 -- The Democratic Convention

July 28, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BOSTON -- On the eve of Sen. John Kerry's nomination for president, a parade of convention speakers, led by the senator's wife, praised him as a war hero who would defend America vigorously in the war on terrorism.

The second night of the Democrats' national convention -- blacked out by the major broadcast networks, thus guaranteeing a smaller viewing audience -- was given over to themes of change, diversity, moderation and optimism designed to appeal to independent swing voters who could hold the key to the November election.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate's sometimes outspoken wife, offered a personal testimonial about her husband of nine years, in an unusually prominent convention role for a nominee's spouse. Heinz Kerry -- a multimillionaire philanthropist who inherited more than $500 million after the death of her first husband, Republican Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, in 1991 -- also defended her independent-mindedness.

She said she hoped that "one day soon, women -- who have all earned their right to their opinions -- instead of being called opinionated, will be called smart or well-informed, just like men."

Heinz Kerry, who was a registered Republican until last year, highlighted her husband's war record. It is an aspect of his background that Democratic politicians hope will reassure undecided voters that the Massachusetts liberal can be trusted with the job of commander in chief in the campaign against terrorism.

"John is a fighter," said Heinz Kerry, the daughter of Portuguese expatriates in Africa, who would be only the second foreign-born first lady in history. "He earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line for his country.

"No one will defend this nation more vigorously than he will -- and he will always, always be first in the line of fire," she said.

"But he also knows the importance of getting it right," she said, thumping the lectern for emphasis. "For him, the names of too many friends inscribed in the Vietnam Memorial, that cold stone, testify to the awful toll exacted by leaders who mistake stubbornness for strength.

"And that is why, as president, my husband will not fear disagreement or dissent."

Kerry first came to national prominence as a leader of anti-war veterans in the early 1970s, a portion of his biography that his campaign has played down.

Keynote address

For keynote speaker, the Democrats chose Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan economist who came to the United States to study.

Obama, an Illinois state senator being promoted as a rising star in the party, echoed other Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, the first night's star, in accusing the Republicans of practicing the politics of division.

"We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America," said Obama, who is attempting to become only the third African-American elected to the U.S. Senate in more than a century.

His keynote speech reflected themes that Kerry's advisers hope to project to a closely divided country. Among them: moderation in domestic matters. Obama said Americans "don't expect government to solve all their problems."

With terrorism an overriding concern, Democrats are also trying to project toughness on national security and defense.

"We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued, and they must be defeated," said Obama, the second consecutive African-American chosen as the Democrats' keynote speaker. In 2000, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee had that honor.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the party's liberal icon, banked his rhetorical fire in keeping with the toned-down plan Kerry strategists have imposed on the proceedings.

Kennedy, who once called the Iraq war "a fraud cooked up in Texas" and accused President Bush of "pure, unadulterated fear-mongering," was more restrained last night. Describing the war as "misguided," he said Bush had left the nation less secure and made it more difficult to win the "real war" on terrorism, against al-Qaida.

Speaking in a hoarse voice, he said Bush should be replaced because of his administration's failure to address domestic problems such as the rising cost of health care and higher education and looming financial shortfalls in programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

"In the depths of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt inspired the nation when he said, `The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Today, we say the only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush," said the 72-year-old senator, who was greeted by a sea of blue "Kennedy" signs on the convention floor as he slowly made his way to the microphone.

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