- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2004

BOSTON — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is working to tamp down the amount of Bush bashing at his party’s nominating convention, which kicks off here today.

Mr. Kerry’s staff is examining convention speakers’ remarks to make sure that they stay mostly positive. It will be a clear break from the primary season, when bashing President Bush dominated debates and speeches, and will signify the beginning of Mr. Kerry’s general election message.

“Everybody knows about George Bush; that’s why his approval ratings are in the 40s,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. “They want to know about John Kerry.”

Although Mr. McAuliffe said he hadn’t seen any speeches other than his own, Kerry campaign staffers gave guidance to convention speakers beforehand and are editing many speeches.

“It’s the normal speechwriting process,” said Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, although she said the president will still take his lumps. “You will hear about Bush.”

About 5,000 convention delegates and alternates, 15,000 guests and dignitaries, and 15,000 members of the press have arrived for Boston’s first national nominating convention.

Mr. Kerry, who was supposed to be avoiding Boston until his Thursday acceptance speech, made a surprise visit to Fenway Park to catch the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game last night — a move designed to add some electricity to what has become one of the most scripted events in American politics.

“It’s a wonderful rivalry. The idea of missing a Yankees-Red Sox series right before a convention is unacceptable. So we changed the policy,” Mr. Kerry told reporters traveling with him as he announced that the plane was no longer going to Florida.

There was some campaign business yesterday — although it would affect 2008, rather than this year. Democratic officials voted to set up a commission to study whether Iowa should keep its position as the first caucus, followed a little more than a week later by New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Several jurisdictions, including Michigan and the District of Columbia, have protested those two small states’ dominance in selecting the parties’ nominees. This year, the District held a nonbinding primary a week before Iowa’s caucuses, which former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean won. Mr. Kerry, however, won the District’s official caucuses weeks later.

Mr. McAuliffe said yesterday that the Democratic Party is “in the best shape we have ever been in our history.”

“At the end of the 2000 election, I think a lot of people said this party is dead, in serious trouble. I think after 2002, some people wrote that again,” he said. “This is the comeback party. From where we were after the 2000 debacle, the 2000 election, we are a new party today — we are more energized, coordinated, unified than we have ever been.”

He also claimed victory for Democrats for surviving the past few months, when President Bush began to attack Mr. Kerry in ads and on the campaign trail.

The convention is stacked with speakers who represent the Democratic base, including prominent black, Hispanic and homosexual officeholders and labor union leaders.

But Mr. McAuliffe said those speakers will be delivering a message that reaches out to swing voters.

“We have to have an optimistic, forward looking convention so that the day after this convention, Americans sitting at home say, ‘You know what, John Kerry is fighting for me,’” Mr. McAuliffe said.

According to the Associated Press, the campaign’s guidelines for speakers include keeping remarks short, staying to the night’s theme and being positive.

But clamping down on anti-Bush rhetoric might prove easier to say than to do.

Democrats from the grass roots to the highest levels say the real energy behind the party so far — and the reason it was unified far earlier than usual this year — is Democrats’ overwhelming desire to beat the president.

Groups such as “Run Against Bush,” a nationwide network of runners, captured that sentiment. And even many of those who voted for Mr. Kerry in the primaries said they liked other candidates, but chose Mr. Kerry because they thought his decorated military service made him the best candidate to take on a wartime president.

Highlighting that military service — what Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm called “that Vietnam vet thing” on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program yesterday — is a key element in Democrats’ plan to produce a positive convention.

“When we leave here after four days of this convention everybody in America is going to know about John Kerry, they’re going to know about his service to our country, and more important, they’re going to know about his vision for our country,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

With Democrats already so unified, party officials said not to expect much of a post-convention bounce in the polls. Mr. McAuliffe said yesterday that the 20 percent of the electorate that is not already set for one candidate or the other probably will wait until October before making a decision.

The convention is being held in the FleetCenter, home of Boston’s Bruins and Celtics, and the event will shut down most of the surrounding area for the next four days.

A mixture of local and state police, U.S. Secret Service agents, military police and U.S. Capitol Police are in the city to patrol and guard dignitaries.

Democrats avoided embarrassment yesterday when Boston’s firefighters signed a contract with the city, heading off plans by firefighters and police officers to picket the more than two dozen welcome parties sponsored by Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The contract signing also heads off unions’ call for delegates to walk out of the convention today during Mr. Menino’s official welcome.

An estimated 3,000 demonstrators rallied yesterday on Boston Common, before heading toward the FleetCenter. Most were protesting the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Final preparations were being made inside the arena yesterday, where the best seats in the house, those on the floor directly in front of the podium, were almost all taken by delegations from battleground states such as Oregon, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa.

Massachusetts, a clearly Democratic state, and South Dakota, which will certainly go for Mr. Bush, also are on the floor, although that’s more because of those states’ leaders — Mr. Kerry and senior Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the case of Massachusetts, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the case of South Dakota.

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