Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Former presidents praise Kerry's `record of service'

INTRODUCTIONS After an opening night of famous figures, the Democrats will introduce several lesser known figures, and hope to highlight John Kerry's life

REUTERS , BOSTON

Democrats planned to shift gears yesterday on their convention's second night, as John Kerry's wife shows a personal side of the White House hopeful and the son of a Republican icon takes a star turn at the podium.

After an opening night dominated by popular party veterans like Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, Democrats will highlight Kerry's life history and service with speeches by newcomers like his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and stepson Chris Heinz.

Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois, a rising party star but virtually unknown outside his home state, will deliver the convention's keynote address. Ron Reagan, son of the recently deceased Republican president, will speak on the need to relax restrictions on stem-cell research.

The parade of unfamiliar speakers will be interrupted, however, by the appearance of party icon Edward Kennedy, Kerry's fellow senator from Massachusetts and brother of former President John Kennedy.

More than 4,000 Democratic delegates to the convention will nominate Kerry today to challenge President George W. Bush in a November battle for the White House that polls show is essentially a dead heat.

With the polls showing many voters still do not know much about Kerry, Democrats are hoping the convention will introduce him to undecided voters who often start to pay attention to the White House race during the conventions.

Monday's opening night, highlighted by a rousing reception for former President Bill Clinton, featured a series of speakers praising Kerry and condemning Bush's leadership.

Clinton said Kerry and his running mate, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, would make America "safer, smarter and stronger." Former navy crew mate David Alston lauded Kerry's leadership on the Swift Boat they shared in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

"In the toughest of situations, Lieutenant Kerry showed judgment, loyalty and courage," Alston said. "He never lost his cool."

Democrats showcased the life and military history of Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, hoping to burnish his credentials as a decisive leader and soften the image of the sometimes wooden campaigner.

Carter, also a former naval officer, drew a pointed contrast between Kerry and Bush's service in the National Guard, and made an allusion to questions about whether he showed up to serve his full term.

"Today our party is led by another former naval officer -- one who volunteered for military service," Carter said. "He showed up when assigned to duty, and he served with honor and distinction."

Clinton, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, openly made the comparison with Kerry.

"He could have avoided going, too, but he said `Send me'," Clinton said.

The Democratic image-building could be hampered yesterday by the commercial television networks, which will not air any live coverage.

The main commercial networks showed one hour of coverage on Monday and will repeat that formula today and tomorrow. Cable television news networks are providing full coverage.

Delegates will approve a nonbinding party platform on Tuesday outlining Kerry's stance on a broad range of issues such as health care, taxes and Iraq.

The platform accuses Bush of rushing to war without adequate international support, but also pledges to expand the military and special forces.

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