The Democratic national convention, which on Thursday will nominate Senator John Kerry for president, is underway in Boston. Prominent people in the Democratic Party are among the speakers at this opening session.

Democrats opened their convention Monday afternoon in Boston with a list of speakers headed by former President Clinton, as well as his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton.

Party officials say each of the prominent figures will focus on aspects of Senator Kerry's foreign and domestic agenda, as part of the convention's overall goal of making the American public more familiar with the Democratic presidential candidate.

Still a major influence in party politics, Mr. Clinton's appearance marks the start of a week in which Democrats formally declare their platform and the direction they believe the nation should take under a hoped for John Kerry administration.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election but lost in crucial electoral votes, will also address the gathering.

Mr. Gore has been, perhaps, the sharpest critic of justifications President Bush used to take the nation to war in Iraq, sometimes employing fiery rhetoric. But Democratic Party officials and Senator Kerry himself say they wish to tone down attacks on the president during the convention, in order to set a positive and optimistic tone for the election campaign.

Former President Jimmy Carter will also be among the convention's lead-off speakers.

In the hours before the convention opened, American military veterans who served with Mr. Kerry in Vietnam were part of a Democrat-sponsored rally. Also there was another veteran and former Democratic senator, Max Cleland. "This country is ready to shift from the raw deal it is getting now to the real deal John Kerry is in every way," he said.

Mr. Kerry has continued campaigning, flying from the state of Ohio to Florida. Those two states and a number of others are seen as critical to any Kerry victory in the November presidential election.

One of the latest public opinion polls, CNN-USA Today-Gallup, showed Mr. Kerry with a slight advantage in Ohio, where unemployment rates have been high, while President Bush still holds a narrow percentage point lead in Florida.