On the trail of Kerry's failed dream
Page 9 of 16 -- By mid-June, Kerry was close to choosing Edwards. Kerry telephoned the charter company that was providing his campaign plane. He ordered three sets of decals: Kerry-Edwards, Kerry-Gephardt, and Kerry-Vilsack, but the latter two were decoys. On July 6, Kerry announced his running mate and his plane rolled out of a hangar at Pittsburgh International Airport decked out in "Kerry-Edwards" logos. The announcement generated a flurry of excited coverage, featuring Edwards's photogenic family.
In the end, though, Edwards's help to the ticket was questionable. He fell off the major media radar screen, instead currying local coverage in battleground states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio. And he did fail to deliver his home state, despite campaigning there more than a half-dozen times. And when Kerry's Vietnam foes began their August assault, Kerry had to turn to other surrogates, those with military credentials, to come to his defense.
Every week through the early summer, senior advisers would gather in the fishbowl conference room of Kerry's Washington headquarters to plan their candidate's big national debut, the Democratic National Convention in Boston. As the group grew to as many as 18 people, some advisers worried that the sessions lacked focus.
Still, a consensus began to emerge that the convention should be used to build up Kerry's commander in chief credentials, not tear down Bush's. The reason was mostly practical: Independent groups on the left, dubbed "527s" after their position in the tax code, were already churning out millions of dollars in negative ads against Bush. Why duplicate this vigorous, and well-funded, Bush-bashing effort?
Moreover, the president was suffering from high unfavorable ratings in the polls. Bush-haters didn't need to be convinced of their animus for the president. Selling Kerry as a viable alternative was the task at hand.
His strategists believed that highlighting Kerry's combat record was a no-brainer: Vietnam had always helped him in Massachusetts. "We wanted to give people hope and assure them that Kerry had the strength and guts to stand up to enemies and defeat terrorism. Everything at the convention was calculated to make that point," said Billy Shaheen, his New Hampshire campaign chairman.
In the planning, proposed segments about Kerry's Senate record -- on the environment, on small business, on foreign policy -- were scrapped or scaled back. And aides sought to ensure that both prime time and afternoon speeches were short, on message, and positive about Kerry without being overly harsh on Bush.
Those goals, meant to appeal to swing voters, were out-of-synch with a staunchly antiwar audience; a Globe poll indicated that about 90 percent of the delegates inside the FleetCenter opposed the war, which Kerry had voted to authorize. And anger at Bush was so fierce that delegates broke into raucous cheers at even the most gentle denunciations of his administration. Continued...