Saturday, July 10, 2004

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign headed off a showdown in the party platform yesterday over Iraq, convincing rival Dennis J. Kucinich’s supporters not to demand withdrawal of U.S. troops or the establishment of a Department of Peace.

Saying party unity is more important than particulars, delegates agreed to forgo amendments on Iraq, a broader call for same-sex unions and a stronger endorsement of Palestinians’ rights.

Mr. Kerry has ensured that his party will adopt a platform that matches the centrist image the campaign is trying to portray for the Massachusetts senator.

“They didn’t think we could do this. They didn’t think we could be on message. We showed them, we did it,” said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio Democrat and co-chairwoman of the platform committee. “We have kept our eye on the prize.”

The platform was adopted unanimously and will go to the full convention in Boston on July 26 for final approval. It is far shorter than the 2000 Democratic platform, and instead of a list of specifics, it is a broader statement of principles.

The document includes several pointed rebukes of President Bush’s policies, calling them “wrongheaded” and a “dangerously ineffective” disregard of other nations.

Almost half of this year’s platform is devoted to national and domestic security — something Kerry campaign officials said emphasizes that Democrats, led by Mr. Kerry, are ready to assume the challenge of defending the United States.

The platform includes Mr. Kerry’s call for boosting military troop strength, his initiatives to contain weapons of mass destruction and his pledge to channel more funding to homeland security.

The Kerry campaign was very much in charge of the drafting process, with deputy campaign manager Steve Elmendorf, adviser Miles Lackey and campaign foreign-policy adviser Rand Beers on hand in the hotel ballroom here in Hollywood, Fla.

And most delegates responded: At one point, just a handful were standing to second an amendment, until a campaign representative announced that Mr. Kerry accepted the amendment, which prompted half of the other delegates to rise immediately to second it.

Another time, the campaign did not step forward to support an amendment that embodied one of its own principles, to raise fuel-efficiency standards, which failed for lack of a second.

“This came directly off the John Kerry Web site,” pleaded amendment sponsor Hue Beattie, a delegate from Washington, to no avail.

One amendment that did pass was to eliminate a praiseworthy mention of 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.

Originally, the platform had closed by crediting Mr. Dole for trying, but failing, to make the Republicans’ platform more inclusive in 1996. But delegates yesterday said Democrats shouldn’t have to credit Mr. Dole when their party had been inclusive long before the Republicans’ attempt.

“Basically, we can do it without him,” said Marla Camp, the delegate from Texas who sponsored the amendment. It passed by voice vote.

Some delegates were displeased with the way the process worked. The platform was leaked to certain newspapers last weekend, though several delegates said they didn’t get copies until late this past week.

Amendments weren’t filed until Friday evening, at which time party and campaign officials called to try to work out compromises. Mr. Beattie said he received a call at 12:30 yesterday morning from someone looking to work through his amendments.

“The process could be improved,” he said, calling for a rule to have the platform provided 10 days in advance.

The most anticipated showdowns, on homosexual rights and foreign policy, never materialized, after the supporters of Mr. Kucinich, a congressman from Ohio and the only other candidate actively campaigning for the Democratic nomination, withdrew them.

“We withdrew them all in exchange for language implying a withdrawal from Iraq. That was the most important thing, so we made the trade,” said Ana Diaz, a delegate from Hawaii who sponsored many of those amendments.

They had hoped to include a specific timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq but instead settled for a general call for troops to leave “when appropriate” and when Iraq is able to handle affairs on its own.

Ms. Diaz said they realized they did not have the votes to pass any of their amendments, and Mr. Beers said he worked to come up with agreeable language that kept to Mr. Kerry’s principles.

John Sherman, a Kucinich supporter and a delegate from Minnesota, said the compromise is “a message I can bring my folks.” Polls show a majority of Democrats oppose the war and want troops withdrawn immediately. But both Mr. Kerry and running mate John Edwards voted in favor of using force, and Democrats fear being seen as weak on defense.

Given that, the platform committee leaders talked sponsors out of their amendment.

“Platforms are about the future. It’s very clear that America must succeed in Iraq and stay until the job is done,” Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, one of the committee chairmen, told reporters.

Outside of defense, the platform also:

• Opposes creating a nuclear-waste dump facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

• Calls for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, which wasn’t in the 2000 platform, and also drops part of the platform from 2000 that protected American workers by calling for a limit to the H-1B work visa.

• Opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment now pending in Congress and calls for the issue of defining marriage to be left up to states.

• Calls for an end to the ban on travel to Cuba.

• Pledges a reversal of Mr. Bush’s stem-cell research policy, which restricts federal funding to a select few lines of embryonic stem cells that already existed at the time he decided to limit funding.

On Friday, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said the Democratic platform was part of Mr. Kerry’s attempt to reinvent his politics.

“In fact, it seems to be designed to hide his values and the things he has done in the everyday of American politics,” Mr. Gillespie said. “It’s not a platform to stand on. It’s a facade to hide behind.”

Republicans will write their platform the week before their convention in New York at the end of August, but Mr. Gillespie said he didn’t expect many changes from 2000.

“You have an incumbent president who ran in 2000, and the platform had already been worked out in 2000, so you’re not starting from scratch in the way Kerry and his team obviously have to do in their process,” he said.

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