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Kerry hones campaign themes

With the big event two weeks away, picks up pace, cash

Paralleling President Bush's own argument for reelection, advisers to John F. Kerry said yesterday he wants the speeches at Boston's upcoming Democratic National Convention to champion an overarching message of military might, fiscal conservatism, and better health care and public schools -- themes that a top Kerry aide summed up as, ''stronger at home, respected in the world."

The Kerry campaign plans to release the themes and speakers' list for the July 26-29 convention at a news conference today in Washington, and aides said to expect a featured speaking slot for a rising African-American star in the party, US Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois, as well as a high-profile role for crewmates from Kerry's Vietnam War gunboat.

Kerry spent the day in Boston raising $5 million and whipping up hometown crowds by attacking Bush for pushing a US constitutional ban on gay marriage and not attending a recent NAACP conference, among other issues. He also declared that he was ''proud" to oppose additional funding last year for US troops in Iraq, while his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, delivered her own attack on Bush as a president who is ''fazed by complexity." It was a day of rhetorical swipes, as Kerry sought to build excitement for today's convention announcements, and it was surely one of the warmest times that Kerry has had with Boston political audiences.

Kerry aides said President Clinton will deliver the keynote address Monday, the first night of the convention, and mentioned possible speaking roles that night for Jimmy Carter and Al Gore as well. The second night will include tributes to Boston's most renowned political family, the Kennedys, with Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivering a major speech. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Kerry's running mate, will speak that Wednesday, and Kerry will accept the Democratic nomination the next night.

Obama is being eyed to deliver a prime-time address, most likely that Tuesday night, and Kerry's wife may speak that night as well. Ron Reagan, son of former President Reagan, is expected to speak Tuesday night as well about the potential benefits of embryonic stem cell research to treat patients like his late father, who died last month of Alzheimer's disease. A Hispanic leader is also likely to speak, possibly US Representative Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Kerry's ''band of brothers" from Vietnam will also be represented in minidocumentaries and from the dais and will probably include several crewmates who campaigned for him. Included will be another close ally, Max Cleland, the former Georgia senator who lost an arm and both legs in the Vietnam War. Sprinkled throughout the four days will also be Democrats who challenged Kerry for the party's nomination this winter.

''Everything at the convention will revolve around an overriding framework of 'stronger at home, respected in the world,' " the senior Kerry aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Kerry began yesterday at a ''unity" gathering in Roxbury's new Hampton Inn with 40 political and community leaders and a predominantly African-American audience. He received a glowing introduction from state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who Kerry later suggested would ''rock 'n' roll" as a speaker for his White House bid. She criticized Bush's signature education policy, known as No Child Left Behind, and derided it as ''No Black Child Learns Under Bush."

Kerry also tweaked Bush for not attending the NAACP's recent convention, saying he himself would ''be a president who . . . meets with the NAACP." He is scheduled to address the association in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Shortly after noon, Kerry met with relatives of 9/11 victims during a dedication of a memorial in the Public Garden, and then attended a fund-raiser with his wife and former Texas governor Ann Richards that drew a largely female audience. Richards unleashed zinger after zinger, at one point comparing the Bush administration to ''a marriage that's gone from bad to worse.

''It occurred to me, this is the town of Paul Revere -- remember, one if by land, two if by sea? He had better information for the American people than this White House," Richards said.

Kerry followed up by saying he was ''proud" of how he and Edwards opposed additional funding for American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, votes the Bush campaign has targeted in campaign ads.

''I'm proud to say that John joined me in voting against that $87 billion when we knew the policy had to be changed. We had to get it right," Kerry said.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt denounced Kerry as ''reckless" for voting to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002 and then expressing pride over opposing the funds last year.

Kerry came together late in the day with 1988 party nominee Michael Dukakis, House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Senate President Robert Travaglini, and other Democratic leaders to thank them for helping raise more than $1 million.

Heinz Kerry launched her own attack on Bush at the legislative reception, saying: ''We have really tough opponents -- and I mean tough not in ideas, but tough in a slugfest way. They are really hitting hard; they are hitting me very hard in ways that you don't even know."

Shortly afterward, at an outdoor concert that raised about $4 million for Kerry, Heinz Kerry got more personal. ''We need above all a president who is not fazed by complexity. A president who likes to read. A president who loves history."

Separately, in Washington yesterday, the Kerry campaign announced a $1 million buy of political commercials on Spanish-language television.

Patrick Healy can be reached at

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