Democrats convened in Boston in 2004 to nominate John Kerry and John Edwards as their standard-bearers. Participants shared their recollections with National Journal. Edited excerpts follow.
During a layover en route to Boston, I got a call from a Kerry campaign delegate wrangler. He offered me the chance to sit on the stage during the speeches. All I needed to do was pass a background check, ditch the campaign buttons, avoid wearing white, curtail sudden movements, and be able to sit for long periods without access to a bathroom. I immediately saw publicity potential in the weirdness of being so excited to look at the back of famous peoples’ heads.
As happens at every convention, press outnumbered delegates at least two to one, and there was almost no controversy. In this environment of journalistic famine, a human prop can seem pretty interesting. My mom called our local TV news stations and got them to do stories back home. I was picked to blog for AOL News. The American Federation of Teachers set me up to do satellite feeds to local TV and radio outlets across the country. My local paper won an award for a story about me watching the balloon drop I’d dreamed of since I was 17. By the end of the week, I was doing interviews with Education Week.
I’m pretty sure 0.00032 percent of the Kerry vote was all me.
Governor of New Mexico
In the 2004 convention, I was appointed chair of the event and given a prime-time speech slot. Needless to say, I thought I was hot stuff. But I soon found out that as chair I had zero power and everything was scripted. At best I got good floor passes for friends and supporters. I did get some visibility during the proceedings, but only after a lot of coaxing with the convention staff, which runs the show to the chagrin of the biggest names in the party. For my prime-time speech, I prepared extensively and had some great lines written by top speechwriters. But there was one problem: Al Sharpton. He preceded me and went way beyond his allotted eight minutes. No one dared take him off the podium, as he electrified the world. Not only was I shoved out of prime time, but my speech was relegated to the den of forgettable tomes, especially after Sharpton’s soaring rhetoric. Oh well, it was still a fun convention, and I did have a car and driver courtesy of the DNC.
Senior adviser to John Kerry
That year the DNC made a big effort to get all these radio talk-show hosts at the convention—not just the progressive liberal talk-show hosts, but also the more conservative ones. One of the people from the DNC said, “You have to go to this.” Apparently the talk-show hosts had said, “We’ll take John Kerry, or this person, or Tad Devine.” Somehow I had gotten onto the list of acceptable people.
Before I go in, a DNC staffer said, “We want to warn you, it’s going to be really, really rough.” I went walking into this big ballroom in the Sheraton and I could see this was not a friendly crowd. I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what am I going to say to these people and how am I going to loosen them up?”
And then I see Arlene Violet, the former attorney general of Rhode Island. She was a Republican who had become a talk-show host. She was a former nun
and she had taught me in the eighth grade, at St. Michael School in Providence.
I said, “I’m particularly pleased to see Arlene Violet today.” A little applause came up. “I’ve known her since I was in grammar school.” I started to give a little talk about the Catholic values that I learned from people like her growing up and how that shaped me. Sister Arlene was a very convenient ally for me that day. And she said from the audience, “He was a great kid”—that was her shout-out. I used that as just a little armor.
There were some tough questions, but afterwards a person from the DNC said, “Oh my God, that was so much better we thought it was going to be.” I had a nun who taught me in grammar school that I used to make a little connection with the crowd. I think it’s an example of how at the convention, you’ve just got to scramble; you never know the tone of the room you’re going to walk into.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio
Unsuccessful presidential candidate
The Kerry campaign made my appearance before the convention contingent on two things. First, that I release my delegates and encourage them to support Senator Kerry. Which I did. Second, that I submit my speech to the convention to them for their review. Which I resisted.
The Kerry campaign heavily edited my convention speech. I protested and considered leaving the convention. Tense negotiations produced some references to the lies which took us into war, and how Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. My supporters were told not to display signs during my speech, but they did so anyway.
This article appears in the September 6, 2012 edition of NJ Convention Daily.