Convention Notebook

Election 2004

The Democratic Convention

July 30, 2004

Language studies

John Kerry, schooled in Europe as a youth, speaks fluent French - but not Spanish - and spent his adult life in New England. He thus lacks easy entree to the fastest-growing minority group, Hispanics, whose votes could decide the presidential election.

President Bush, by contrast, speaks Spanish well enough to conduct interviews in Spanish and sprinkle bits of it into his speeches.

Democrats, eager to seize any edge they can in the competition for Latino votes, have been boasting that Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, whose mother was Mexican, is the first Hispanic to chair a national political convention.

The same sort of hype is sprouting up around Kerry's post-convention campaign swing, a two-week cross-country trek that is a departure from the usual mode of presidential campaign travel. Instead of going by chartered jet, Kerry will travel by bus, train and boat.

"Nobody has ever gone coast-to-coast, except in a plane," Kerry's top consultant, Robert Shrum, boasted yesterday.

That claim was later amended by Stephanie Cutter, the campaign's spokeswoman. The last such Democrat to go coast-to-coast, she said, was President Harry S. Truman.

Biting the hand

Plenty of applause is heard on the convention floor. Last night, the tale of a cable worker from Maryland who was fired by Comcast Corp. drew rare boos.

John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, introduced the FleetCenter crowd to Stephen White of Silver Spring, a former Comcast line technician who said he lost his job after trying to form a union in his local shop.

It was a reprise of an introduction Sweeney had made earlier in the day at a Maryland delegation breakfast. That event's host, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, pleased the union by vowing before the convention to boycott any events blocked by picketers. Duncan invited the union's boss to speak.

But then Duncan looked slightly uncomfortbale as White proceeded to denounce Comcast, a sponsor of the breakfast that supplied free battery-powered fans and other goodies.

Without representation

Delegates cast their votes Wednesday night for Kerry as the Democratic presidential candidate. But the delegations of a few regions have a different set of votes on their minds, and they are taking their campaign to the convention floor.

"To put it simply: We have no one in the Congress or Senate who will vote for us," said Arrington Dixon, the District of Columbia's Democratic committeeman.

The district, along with U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa, have no voting representation in Congress.

Delegates watched a video about the issue last night as they waited to hear from Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s nonvoting delegate to Congress.

"What if you paid the third-highest amount of federal taxes per capita in the nation but had no say in how that money is spent?" asked a voice narrating the film. It ended with a plea for voting rights: "It's constitutional. It's American. It's time."

TV generation

An auditorium of politically active youngsters seemed to morph for a few moments yesterday into a raucous studio audience, as Jerry Springer spoke to the Democratic youth caucus.

"Jer-REE! Jer-REE! Jer-REE!" chanted hundreds of teenagers and twentysomethings, rising from their chairs and pumping one arm above their heads, as his fans do when they welcome him to the stage.

They crowded around the so-called "king of trash TV," thrusting T-shirts and even body parts in his face for signatures.

"Can you sign my shirt?" "Can you take a picture with me?"

"Jerry!" Springer, who is eyeing a bid for governor of his swing state of Ohio, won a delegate slot after criss-crossing the state this year, raising votes for Democrats.

The man who helped pioneer the art of the lurid tell-all talk show won over his young audience with self-deprecation.

"May you never be on my show," he told his audience.

And later: "I came over as an immigrant, and now I live this ridiculously privileged life because of my stupid show."

Button bites

Tables are piled high with buttons in the heart of the makeshift Democratic headquarters at the Sheraton hotel, enabling the party faithful to profess their support in thousands of ways.

One button declares simply, "I love John." Another Trump-esque pin displays the words, "Mr. President ... You're Fired."

People of various ethnicities ("Iraqi-Americans for Kerry"), professions, hobbyists (skydivers, Elvis impersonators) and states of being (vertically challenged) are all represented.

"Do you have Realtors?" asks a woman, who is escorted to the appropriate box of pins.

Democrats line up at the button-making machines, where they can get a personalized pin with their name atop Kerry and Edwards' faces.

Of the pre-made pins, "Veterans for Kerry" and "Beer Drinkers for Kerry" are the most popular, a vendor said.

Unsay it again

The convention rumor mill is working overtime, says Montgomery County State Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.

He says he won't be challenging Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. for his seat, contrary to reports on WTOP radio.

"There's nothing I said while I was up there that's anything different than what's been said before," Gansler said, back in Montgomery County after breakfast with the Maryland delegation in Boston.

"If and when there comes a time that he decides not to run again, I would very strongly consider running at that time. It's a job that I've always coveted."

Sun staff writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Riley McDonald and Paul West contributed to this article.

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