James P. Rubin, a Kerry foreign policy adviser, says that for "the first time, tens of millions of Americans are going to focus on John Kerry's qualifications and his approach to winning the war on terror. You're going to see a candidate, John Kerry, who will stand there toe-to-toe with George Bush and convince voters that under his leadership we would fight a more effective war on terrorism."
Kerry strategist Devine calls the speech a unique opportunity for Kerry to present himself "in an unfiltered fashion" to the country. But with television viewership for the convention expected to reach an all-time low this week, the "amplification" provided by news coverage will largely mold public opinion of his address, and the convention, in the days ahead.
Advisers say it would be extremely helpful if Kerry's performance won rave reviews. But even if it doesn't, that won't be a disaster, they insist, noting that Kerry is in far better shape at this stage of the campaign than challengers to an incumbent president usually are.
Few expect Kerry to match former President Bill Clinton's virtuosity at the podium on the convention's opening night.
Kerry "doesn't need to be a Bill Clinton in his oratory or his charisma," says Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island. "He just needs to be himself and get people to understand what makes him tick."
Low expectations may work to his advantage. Kerry has a history of rising to the occasion when it counts. With his back to the wall in his 1996 re-election race, the senator turned the election around and defeated Gov. William F. Weld by out-performing him in a series of debates.