At Kerry’s convention, Clinton’s in the leadoff spot |

At Kerry’s convention, Clinton’s in the leadoff spot

Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) – Bill Clinton gets an opening night moment in the spotlight but it’s John Kerry who has the lead role, even in his absence, as Democrats open their convention intent on putting the Massachusetts senator in the White House.

“Our objective is to show the personal side of Senator Kerry – his character, his Vietnam service, his leadership qualities,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the four-day convention’s chairman, said Monday.

As Kerry campaigned in Florida, convention delegates readied for an evening of speeches focused on his stated vision for America: a strong economy, a growing middle class, affordable health care and a beefed-up military.

“The reality is that the American people don’t focus on who they are going to vote for entirely until the conventions period,” Richardson said on CNN’s “American Morning” program. “What you want to do is draw them in with a message of what we’re going to do.”

Clinton, the Democrats’ last occupant of the White House, dismissed any idea he might overshadow Kerry.

“I feel good about the way he relates to voters,” Clinton said Sunday. As for himself: “I’m going to give a talk and get out of town.”

Kerry was visiting the Kennedy Space Center in the key state of Florida on Monday to talk about affordable health care. He popped into Boston for a brief surprise appearance Sunday night at the Yankees-Red Sox game, throwing out the first pitch.

“It’s great to be back in Boston for a game like this,” Kerry said after the Red Sox won, 9-6. He will make a grand entrance at the convention Wednesday, the day before he accepts the party’s presidential nomination.

Clinton’s wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was to introduce the former president, after speeches from Richardson, former President Carter and Al Gore, who lost to Republican George W. Bush in 2000 after a drawn-out ballot recount in Florida.

Kerry said a team of lawyers is looking at voting problems to try to prevent a repeat of that dispute.

But security was the immediate worry. This year’s convention is the first since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and police and military authorities already had revved up.

Camouflaged military police kept watch on elevated rail lines overlooking the FleetCenter, the sports arena where 4,350 delegates will gather through Thursday. Helicopters circled overhead constantly.

Bomb-sniffing dogs and officers with guns patrolled nearby streets. Metal barricades about 7 feet high directed foot traffic and limited access to the FleetCenter. Numerous roads will be closed during the convention, and authorities braced for gridlock Monday as commuters seek alternate routes to and from work.

But despite the precautions and the terrorism threat, the convention’s message was relentlessly upbeat, underscoring the unity behind Kerry as the man Democrats hope will deny Bush a second term.

No platform fight loomed, and the relative lack of President Bush-bashing was a strategy conceived in part because of polls indicating Kerry’s Democratic base is already solidly behind him. The relatively small portion of undecided voters instead wants to hear more about him and his plans.

“This is going to be the most harmonious convention we’ve had in years,” Richardson, the convention chairman, said Sunday.

Protests remained mostly scattered. Two groups – about 3,000 protesting mainly against the Iraq war and about 1,000 abortion opponents – exchanged angry words blocks from the FleetCenter on Sunday. A few anti-abortion protesters lay in fetal positions in the street as fellow protesters drew chalk outlines around them.

Police moved them along, but two people were taken into custody.

“This is just the beginning of a week of protests,” said Larry Holmes, spokesman for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, the coalition of activist groups that staged the anti-war march.

Among the rallies, parties and receptions planned Monday was one featuring documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, whose Bush-bashing “Fahrenheit 9/11” movie just passed the $100 million mark, the first documentary ever to top that milestone at the domestic box office.

In keeping with tradition, Bush is spending the next several days out of the public eye at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

But the Republicans had strategists in town, tucked away at a nearby office tower dubbed a war room. They focused on painting Kerry as a liberal.

Said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie: “We can’t allow baseless charges to go unanswered.”

On the Net:

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