With 100 campaign days remaining, Sen. John Kerry sought votes in the quintessential battleground state of Ohio on Sunday while thousands of Democratic National Convention delegates converged on a citadel of liberalism to nominate him for the White House.
"Four more years of what?" Kerry responded pointedly to a group of President Bush's supporters who greeted him noisily at his appearance in Columbus.
"Four more years of jobs being lost, four more years of the deficit growing bigger and bigger? Four more years of losing our allies around the world? We know we can restore our alliances around the world and make America strong again," added the four-term Massachusetts senator, running even to slightly ahead of Bush in the pre-convention polls.
A few hundred miles away, security was an overarching concern at the first political convention in the post-9/11 era of terrorism.
Camouflaged military police took up positions along elevated rail lines overlooking the FleetCenter, where 4,350 delegates will meet beginning Monday for four days of political pageantry.
A helicopter circled overhead as two groups of protesters marched noisily just outside a seven-foot-tall temporary security fence that ringed the convention hall complex. The two - one protesting the war in Iraq, the other opposed to abortion - crossed paths at one point and a brief scuffle ensued.
Whatever the street scene, there was no evidence of dissension among the Democrats gathering to nominate Kerry - no platform fight, no battle over floor credentials, not even a sour note from Kerry's rivals in last winter's primaries.
"It's not normally how this party operates," laughed Terence McAuliffe, the party chairman.
"I think it's one of the most unified parties we've had in recent history," added New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez, who will speak to the delegates on Monday night. "It's a coalescence both against the president's policies ... and it's also a very strong sense of purpose of taking the country in a new direction."
It was the latter that Kerry's convention scriptwriters wanted to accentuate. If Bush-bashing wasn't exactly banned in Boston for the week, convention officials said it had been relegated to the rhetorical margins.
It was a strategy dictated in part by polls showing that Kerry's Democratic base is already solidly behind him and that the relatively small portion of the electorate that remains undecided wants to hear more about him and his plans for the future.
"Swing and independent voters are very much up for grabs. Kerry has to make the sale, and he has a long way to go to make the sale," said Harold Ickes, a former top aide to President Clinton who now heads a multimillion-dollar independent effort to put another Democrat in the White House.
It was coincidence that brought the Democratic convention to a bedrock liberal state that Kerry has represented in the Senate for more than two decades. Republicans view it as an opportunity, though, and have sought to use the juxtaposition to their advantage. They issued their own poll as part of an attempt to show Kerry as more liberal than even his own constituents.
Presidential candidates rarely appear in their convention cities until the political proceedings are underway. Kerry made an exception Sunday night, making an unannounced flight to town to throw out the first pitch at a major league baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and their fiercest rivals, the New York Yankees.
Asked in the clubhouse before the game who he would cheer for, he said: "I've got to win New York, but I do want the Red Sox to win."
Kerry and Edwards spoke for 15 to 20 minutes on Sunday, comparing notes on their respective speeches. Kerry has given Edwards considerable latitude on the speech, although Kerry aides are reviewing various drafts so that the two speeches are compatible, said a campaign official.
The four-day list of convention orators ran to more than 100 speakers, with the coveted prime-time slots reserved for a few.
Clinton was Monday night's headline speaker, to be introduced by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who lobbied strongly to bring the convention to his home state, had a key slot the second night, although no live network coverage was planned.
Wednesday night's prime-time hour was designed to showcase Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Kerry's vice presidential running mate. The tentative schedule also had delegates formally bestowing their nomination on Kerry the same night after midnight.
Kerry delivers his acceptance speech on Thursday, then sets out on a cross-country trip he hopes will lead to the White House.
Backers of Kerry and Bush yelled loudly at one another when the Democratic candidate arrived to speak to voters in a politically divided neighborhood of Columbus. Bush supporters strung flip-flops over the phone lines to underscore the GOP campaign's claim that Kerry frequently shifts his position on the issues.
Earlier, anti-abortion protesters turned out at the church where he worshipped.
"I'm proud to hear the voices of democracy," Kerry said. "Sometimes they're a little loud, but that's the nature of democracy and we welcome that. What we really need to do in America, frankly, is stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other."
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