Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry launched the final phase of his campaign for the White House on Thursday with a prime-time Democratic National Convention acceptance speech and a biographical video pitched to voters who will pick a president come fall.
"My promise is to lead our country, to bring people together and take us to a better place," the 60-year-old lawmaker said in the nine-minute campaign documentary.
The video also includes the first reference from the convention podium to Kerry's emergence as a prominent anti-war activist more than three decades ago after he returned home from Vietnam.
The Democrats' man of the hour paid a late-morning visit to the FleetCenter podium to familiarize himself with his speech surroundings. "This is great. Can we do it now?" he joked as he peered out at a sea of empty seats.
The speech aside, all was in readiness for the traditional, made-for-television convention-ending spectacle - the streamers, the confetti, the 100,000 red, white and blue balloons nestled in the rafters to be released on command.
Together, Kerry and running mate John Edwards leave their convention city on Friday for a 3,500-mile, coast-to-coast campaign swing through 21 states.
After spending the week at his Texas ranch, Bush, too, intends to resume campaigning with a bus tour through battleground states stretching from Pennsylvania to Missouri.
The pre-convention polls showed Kerry even to slightly ahead of Bush, a strong position for a challenger. Whatever sort of surge in support he receives from his convention, Republicans hope to counter next month, when they meet in New York to nominate Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for re-election.
Bush's GOP surrogates kept up their convention-week criticism of the Kerry-Edwards ticket to the end in terms likely to recur throughout their own convention.
"Everything and anything has been discussed but their record," said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of the Democrats, joining a string of Republicans accusing Kerry of trying to obscure a career-long record of liberalism.
Edwards was up early after little sleep. He had breakfast with delegates from Wyoming, Alabama and his home state of North Carolina, then met separately with delegations from the battleground states of Michigan, West Virginia and New Mexico.
"The truth is, we can't do this without you," said Kerry's ticket mate, who won the most sustained cheers of the first three days of the convention with his own speech on Wednesday night. "We need you out there working, organizing, getting people to the polls."
Kerry's speech marked the finale of a unified convention scripted to stress his record as a veteran, go lightly on traditional Democratic issues such as abortion rights and affirmative action and generally mute criticism of Bush.
The convention's evening was as rigorously scripted as the first three, designed to flesh out Kerry's biography and emphasize his experience as a decorated Vietnam veteran who helped safe the lives of others.
The video was part of the effort to shed Kerry's image as an aloof politician, casting him as an athlete and a musician, a Yale graduate and a prosecutor, a soldier and a son, a father and a husband.
"I cried like a baby when they were born, both of them," Kerry says of his two daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra.
The run-up to the speech included an appearance at the podium by the men he calls his band of brothers, more than a dozen Vietnam swiftboat crewmates and Jim Rassmann, the man who credits the former naval officer with saving his life under fire.
Former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost three limbs while serving in Vietnam, drew the assignment of introducing Kerry.
After days of living in a virtual convention city, Democrats were ready to break camp. Vendors hawked their last memorabilia, from buttons to banners. "Re-defeat Bush," was one popular campaign button, a wry reference to the 2000 recount election in which Al Gore won the popular vote but Bush got the White House.
After three days of calm in a heavily fortified city, protesters burned a two-faced effigy depicting Bush on one side and Kerry on the other. A demonstrator wearing a black hood was dragged from the crowd and detained by police.
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