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Democratic Convention to Turn Spotlight on Kerry, Edwards - 2004-07-20

Democrats begin their four-day nominating convention next Monday in Boston with speeches by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The focus of the convention will quickly shift to the party's candidates for president and vice president, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

John Kerry is 60 years old and has been elected to the U.S. Senate four times. But during the Democratic primaries and caucuses early this year, voters seemed to focus on his military background in choosing a candidate to take on President Bush.

After graduating from Yale University, John Kerry enlisted in the Navy and commanded a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. Mr. Kerry was wounded three times in combat and awarded decorations for bravery.

With Democrats looking for a candidate able to stand up to President Bush on foreign policy and the war on terrorism, Senator Kerry's war experience proved to be a decisive factor in his convincing victory in the first test of the 2004 campaign, the Iowa presidential caucuses.

"And now I have a special message for the special interests that have a home in the Bush White House," he announced. "We are coming. You are going. And do not let the door hit you on the way out!"

William Schneider is a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He says Senator Kerry was able to win the Democratic presidential nomination because Democrats wanted the candidate with the most experience to face President Bush in November.

"Voters felt Kerry had the right experience. Among voters who put a premium on experience, [Senator John] Edwards was constantly running way behind Kerry," said Mr. Schneider.

In early July, Senator Kerry picked Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate. Senator Edwards is 51 and built a successful career as a trial lawyer for 20 years before defeating an incumbent Republican to win a U.S. Senate seat in 1998.

Senator Edwards has focused on health care, education and other domestic issues in his brief time in Congress and Democrats expect Senator Kerry to take advantage of his former rivals formidable campaigning skills.

"What I know is that we are going to win this election, we are going to make America stronger and we are going to create respect for America all around the world, the America that all of us believe in," he said.

Although numerous prominent Democrats will speak at the convention, most of the focus will be on the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

"We used to have much more party-centered government, organized political parties with political machines, political bureaucrats, with voters thinking about voting for the party," said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst here in Washington. Now, we have much more what is referred to as candidate-centered campaigns."

Democrats also see their national convention as an opportunity for voters to get to know the candidates.

"In March, 68 percent felt that they knew a lot about John Kerry. But today, just 57 percent do, a 10 percentage point change in a period of just several months," said Karlyn Bowman, who monitors public opinion for the American Enterprise Institute. "So, I believe that John Kerry needs a successful convention to reintroduce himself to the voters."

To counter the focus on Senator Kerry's war record, Republicans are expected to emphasize President Bush's leadership in the war on terror during their national convention in New York City at the end of August.