Keeping national security at the front of the presidential campaign, John Kerry called Tuesday for extending the life of the Sept. 11 commission to help ensure that its recommendations are enacted as soon as possible. "The stakes are too high," he said.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, surrounded himself with military veterans at a campaign stop in the Navy town of Norfolk, Va., as he makes his way north to Boston and the Democratic National Convention that will nominate him for president.
On the convention's second night, Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, an outspoken multimillionaire heiress, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), the liberal icon whom Republicans like to link Kerry with, will offer the nation a more personal view of the presidential candidate.
In Virginia, a Republican-leaning yet military heavy state that Kerry wants to win, the Massachusetts senator called for the Sept. 11 panel to continue working beyond its scheduled Aug. 26 end date to ensure its suggested reforms are put in place.
Kerry has endorsed all the recommendations the commission released last week, and has urged President Bush to act quickly on them. He said he would, on "the day I become president."
Pressed about Bush's reaction to the Kerry proposal, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan would only say the president is focused on the commission's recommendations "and those steps that we can take in working with the Congress to improve intelligence or to make us safer." Bush has a task force reviewing the commission's proposals.
"We have the strength as a nation to do what needs to be done," Kerry said Tuesday. "The only thing we don't have is time. We need to do it now."
Until Kerry's arrival in the convention city on Wednesday night, others will make his case to the 4,350 delegates gathered at the FleetCenter and the millions watching on TV.
His wife, who drew unwanted attention this week for telling a reporter to "shove it," said in an interview broadcast Tuesday that she'd do it again. Vice President Dick Cheney as similarly unapologetic when he defended uttering a vulgarity to a Democratic senator last month.
"If someone is really attacking your honor, or trying really to be dishonest, really to try to get you, I think most Americans, most people, would say, you know, defend yourself. And that's what I did," she said on CBS' "The Early Show."
Democrats also are looking to their keynote speaker, Illinois Senate hopeful Barack Obama, to energize the base, as former President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, did Monday night. Obama would be the first black male Democrat ever elected to the Senate.
"What I'd like to do is focus on making sure that I give voice to the stories that I'm hearing of people across Illinois who are struggling with health care bills that are rising, trying to save for college and retirement at the same time," Obama said Tuesday on CNN's "American Morning."
It was the Clintons who were the convention's stars Monday.
Introducing her husband as "the last great Democratic president," Sen. Clinton revved up the packed convention hall by saying Kerry "will lead the world, not alienate it."
When the former president took the stage, delegates jumped up, screamed, applauded and waved placards. Even as he clearly enjoyed it, Clinton quickly turned the focus to insisting that Kerry would be a good commander in chief.
"During the Vietnam War, many young men, including the current president, the vice president and me, could have gone to Vietnam and didn't. John Kerry came from a privileged background. He could have avoided going too, but instead, he said: Send me," Clinton said.
In keeping with the Democratic convention strategy of avoiding strong Bush-bashing, Clinton jabbed the Republicans sharply on the economy, tax cuts and corporate windfalls, while taking more subtle digs at the president himself.
Kerry has "a willingness to hear other views, even those who disagree with him," Clinton said. "John Kerry will make choices that reflect both conviction and common sense."
Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, watched the speeches from his home in North Carolina, resting a raspy voice and fine-tuning the convention speech he delivers Wednesday, aides said. Edwards formally accepts the vice presidential nomination Thursday night.
The head of the largest union in the AFL-CIO created a minor stir when he told The Washington Post the labor movement is in crisis and might be more motivated to change if Kerry is not elected. Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, later clarified his remarks, saying after the story appeared on the newspaper's Web site that he is committed to helping Kerry win.
Republicans, in town to combat the Democrats' message, aimed to contrast what they called Clinton's more centrist policies with Kerry's liberal voting record in the Senate.
Former Vice President Al Gore urged Democrats to "fully and completely" channel their anger over his narrow loss after a bitter Florida ballot recount that decided the 2000 election in Bush's favor, and send Kerry to the White House.
Pre-convention polls show Kerry tied or slightly ahead of Bush, although the same surveys show the president with a clear advantage on the issue of handling the war on terror.
The first national political convention since Sept. 11, 2001, was influenced by the terror attacks in ways both big and small. In a ceremony of remembrance, the hall went nearly dark but for small flashlights held aloft as the strains of "Amazing Grace" floated across the arena from the violin of a 16-year-old musician. Outside, armed officers stood guard along a seven-foot-tall metal security fence that ringed the convention complex.
On the Net:
Kerry-Edwards campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com
Bush-Cheney campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com
Democratic National Convention: http://www.dems2004.org