Convention Notebook

Election 2004 -- The Democratic Convention

July 29, 2004

Dean brings full plate of passion to breakfast

Combative as ever, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean made a surprise appearance at the Maryland delegation's 7:30 a.m. breakfast yesterday, delighting the delegates with his trademark attack on conservatives.

"We have a civil war going on in this country, and we cannot afford to lose it," Dean told the Marylanders, who looked up from their French toast and eggs to give the former candidate their attention.

Dean called for an engagement in Democratic politics at all levels - from library trustee to president - and in all areas of the country, even traditionally Republican zones.

"We've got to build the party from the ground up," he warned. "We have got to make the case everywhere."

Aquatic landing a bad omen?

John Kerry, who swept into Boston yesterday on a passenger ferry, is trying to avoid the fate of the last nominee-to-be to make an aquatic convention landing. In 1996, Bob Dole floated into the Republican convention site on a tourist vessel adorned in red, white and blue.

"Here in San Diego, the real race begins," Dole said then. "The era of Bill Clinton is over!"

And then? Dole proceeded to fall to Clinton in a landslide.

For Kerry, the majestic views of Boston Harbor - and the siren call of a photo-op - proved irresistible.

Near the airport, Kerry ducked into the Hyatt Harborside for a pit stop before boarding the Lulu E. A brief meet-and-greet was enough to draw pledges of support from Sonia Rodriguez and Rosa Rendon. "He's something fresh for the country," Rodriguez said.

Among the hundreds who greeted the boat after its 15-minute trip to Boston: Mariellen Dietz, 61, an Iowa teacher who flew to Boston just to see the convention spectacle from the outside. Kerry had won Dietz's affection with an appearance in Iowa in February. "I just had to be here," she said.

One woman evidently missed Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech the night before. As she wrestled through the crowd in search of a Kerry handshake, she asked someone next to her, "Is he married or single?"

Cheers and jeers hard to overcome

When is whipping supporters into a frenzy for John Kerry at the convention a problem for his team? When the frenzy drowns out his message of the day.

That was the case yesterday at a downtown hotel, where three of Kerry's national security advisers - James P. Rubin, Rand Beers and Susan Rice - fought a losing battle to be heard over the raucous cheers of the Wisconsin delegation, which was holding its breakfast meeting next door.

Rubin was driving home a theme - that Kerry is eminently fit to be commander in chief - as the loud strains of a call-and-response from the next room intruded. Rubin might have wondered why reporters seemed to be giggling at his assertion that "we don't need to pass the commander-in-chief test."

Soon, rhythmic screams wafted in, punctuating Beers' discussion of whether Kerry would support a military draft.

Fighting the din didn't seem to be an option. So Rubin joined in. "AMEN!" he said as Beers finished.

After breakfast, the instigators of the noise explained they had been using poetry and chants to try to excite people about ousting President Bush.

Snippets of goodwill for Republicans

This week, making nice with Republicans is the last thing on the minds of most Democrats. But two Baltimore artists are asking the party faithful to take time out of their unity-fest to praise the other guys.

Armed with digital video cameras, Francesca Danieli and Julia Kim Smith are taking to the convention floor and at parties and receptions to get Democrats to say something - anything - nice about Republicans. They're collecting footage for a film, titled One Nice Thing, that they plan to show in New York when Republicans hold their convention there.

"I've got to think about this for a minute," Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel of Pennsylvania says when the two approach and hold out a postcard that reads, "Say something nice about Republicans [and really mean it]."

Hoeffel soon obliges: "My parents were Republicans - at least until they reached the 1980s, when they thought the Republicans veered too far to the right."

But Martha Jane West of St. Louis needs some more time.

"Say something nice ... and I mean it?" asks West, 72, who sports an arsenal of anti-Bush pins. (One of them: "Oust the gang of four," with pictures of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - all in prison stripes.)

"They say they like us, but the head [of the party] doesn't really like us," West, who is black, says, noting that Bush rejected an invitation to attend this year's NAACP convention.

Reminded it's supposed to be nice, she tries again: "My grand-nephew is a Republican."

Bill Bacon, 53 of Harrisburg, Pa., notes that Republicans are the party of Lincoln. Many Republicans "still believe in those principles," he concedes.

Among the more than 100 Democrats whose "nice" statements about Republicans have been captured on tape are several Marylanders, including Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Mayor Martin O'Malley of Baltimore.

Responses have ranged from the teasing ("Republican women dress well and have great hair") to the philosophical ("We're all people.")

Sun staff writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Riley McDonald, Kimberly A.C. Wilson and David L. Greene contributed to this article.

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