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Convention Dispatches Live: Wednesday

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Wednesday, July 28, 2004; 10:00 PM

Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards addressed the 2004 Democratic National Convention Wednesday night.

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal was online Wednesday, July 28, at 10 p.m. to take your questions and comments on the night's speeches and the latest political news from the convention.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Terry Neal: Hello there and thanks for joining me again tonight. Well, it's getting pretty interesting. John Edwards takes the stage in a few and that will certainly be interesting. There's lots of hoopla now Kerry in town. So, let's get started and talk about it all.
Hit me with your questions.

Terry

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Kennesaw, Ga.: Sorry, Terry, but I have to ask this: did you notice that Al Sharpton supported his impassioned rejection of President Bush's charge that Democrats are taking African American voters for granted by citing events that mostly happened before you were born?

True, he did mention a couple of low-level black staffers in Kerry's campaign. I think he mentioned Barack Obama, though he couldn't quite remember the fellow's name. He didn't mention any African American Democrats who John Kerry considered as well qualified to be Vice President as John Edwards, maybe because Kerry doesn't think there are any.

Maybe this is a sensitive topic for you, Terry, and maybe not. In any event I don't mean to rub it in, but anyone listening to Sharpton tonight would have to suspect that Bush was right. The Democrats do take African American votes for granted, and as long as putative black leaders like Al Sharpton get their egos massaged with some TV time they are just fine with that.

Terry Neal: Thank you for your question. You make some interesting points. To play devil's advocate, Sharpton would probably argue that you missed his point. He is arguing that history is important. That we can't forget it. And that the progress that has been made is being threatened by the current Republican administration and Congress.
Now having said that, there are plenty of black people who would agree with your assessment that the Democratic party takes them for granted. But they say that's still better than being ignored by the Republican party.
I did a series of interviews in Roxbury, a predominantly black section of Boston today, and the term I kept hearing was "lesser of two evils" to explain why they will vote for Kerry over Bush this year.

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Morristown, N.J.: From the CNN coverage it seems that the Republican party representatives who they interview continually stress how negative and focused on "Bush Bashing" all of this convention's speakers have been. From this independent voters viewpoint, it doesn't seem like the majority of big time speakers have expressed anything more than mild criticism of some of Bush's policies. Is there any substance to the Republican pundits continued insistence that this has been a very negative campaign or are they just trying their best to stay on Republican talking points regardless of events?

Terry Neal: That's a good question. I tackled this very issue in my column on washingtonpost.com yesterday. Please check it out if you get a chance.
The gist of what I said is that there is a difference between criticism and negative attacks, even though the media and political operatives often use the terms interchangeably.
But politics is all about defining why you are better than the other guy. Some speakers, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton tonight and perhaps Sen. Kennedy last night, could be accused of crossing the line at points, but I guarantee you when the Republicans are up in a month, they're going to have some tough things to say about John Kerry as well.

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Boston, Mass.: What do you think the Republican playmakers are thinking, sitting around the TV watching the DNC?

Terry Neal: I can't wait until Aug. 29!

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washingtonpost.com: Negative or Just Critical? (washingtonpost.com, July 27)

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Terry, how was the response to Martin O'Malley's speech? And how is Rev. Sharpton being received there? I missed his speech, but just read the transcript and I liked a lot of what he had to say.

washingtonpost.com: Video: Al Sharpton speaks to the Democratic National Convention

Terry Neal: Sorry but I missed Mayor O'Malley's speech. But I did get hear the Sharpton speech. I think people are going to be talking about that one for a while...Sharpton apparently ignored his prepared speech and went off on a bit of a rhetorical hayride aimed right at President Bush. The crowd seemed to love it. He had a couple real zingers. At one point, he said something to the effect of, "had George Bush been president in 1954, Clarence Thomas might have never gone to law school."

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Jonesville, Va.: How did you manage to draw such a tough time slot?

Terry Neal: I don't know. I'm sure it's racial.

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Terry Neal: Just joking!

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Houston, Tex.: What issue do you believe John Kerry must address in his acceptance speech tomorrow night to galvanize independent and undecided voters?

Terry Neal: Great question. I think the whole speech will be out reassuring people that they can trust them to protect the security interests of the country. I think he must emphasize that criticizing the president's handling of Iraq is not the same as being soft on terrorism.
Kerry will talk about a broad range of issues, from health care, education, job creation...But I think his toughest challenge, in terms of speaking to independent and moderate voters is on the security issue.

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Boston, Mass.: Have swing voters really seen anything on CSPAN over the past three days (besides Obama's speech) that might convince them to climb off the fence and vote Democrat? The rhetoric on Kerry seems trying to walk the line between "willing soldier" and "international peacemaker" but I haven't heard much persuasive evidence to the latter.

Terry Neal: Well, you know none of this is going to change minds that are already made up. That's not really what it's about. It's about energizing the base, and appealing to undecided voters. I'm certain that there are plenty of people who disagree with your opinion that the convention has offered nothing compelling.

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Virginia: Where are you right now? I mean, exactly? In the Hall? Watching Edwards? Who are you sitting beside? What are you seeing around you while Edwards speaks? Thanks.

Terry Neal: Actually, I'm in a skybox on the fifth level of the fleet center in CNN's media center. I'm here because I have a contract with CNN to do political analysis, and I appeared on Headline News at 9:45 p.m. and I'll be on NewsNight with Aaron Brown some time after 11 p.m. The good folks here were nice enough to let me use a computer here so I didn't have to walk back to the Washington Post's media center, which is about a 15 minute walk each way from here.
The CNN facility overlooks the floor of the fleet center, and it's right in front of the stage, and I have a great view of everything!

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Toronto, Canada: Will a Kerry-Edward adminstration be open to different ideas particularly in matters related to foreign policy or will they persue their predetermined policies only?

Terry Neal: No, I think they're going to poll Canadians before they make they make important foreign policy decisions!

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Virginia: Except for praising Kerry, is this the same stump speech Edwards used over the primaries?

Terry Neal: Yes, it's very similar, except the new Kerry stuff at the top. But I guess they figured it worked in the primaries--ok, not well enough to make him the nominee, but enough to propel him the top of the hot Democrat list--so why mess with something that works?

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Rolla, Mo.: Just read the transcript of the Moore-O'Reilly sparring match, seems like Moore ate the No-Spinmeister alive.

What is Michael Moore actually doing during the convention? I know he has no official role, and the Party would like him to lay low, but he does seem to serve a useful purpose -- stoke the fire of the true believers and raise questions in the minds of the few undecideds, while allowing the Party to take the high road.

Terry Neal: Funny you ask. Michael Moore has been sort of a ubiquitous presence here at the convention, even though he has no official role in the convention. In fact, my mother called me today to say, "was that you I saw standing behind Michael Moore last night?" And the funny thing is, I didn't even know Moore was there...
But he's been doing lots of interviews. And he did a showing of his movie the other day for AFSCME and some other folks, I believe.
But no, the Kerry folks weren't about to actually hand him a microphone this week.

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Denver, Colo.: So far, I'd have to call this an average speech, not a great one. Bill Clinton's speech was much better. I saw Al Sharpton's speech earlier. I'm certainly no fan of Sharpton, but he really is an excellent speaker.

Terry Neal: Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Chicago, Ill.: Terry, thanks for all the hard work. In this morning's online journal, you note that a lot of Roxbury residents were disappointed Kerry had never visited their neighborhood, raising the possibility that Kerry hasn't done enough to reach out to black voters. Just to play devil's advocate for a second, I'd note that for the last seven years I've lived in downtown Chicago and been a constituent of Rep. Danny Davis. I'm white, he's black. My home and his office are in different socio-economic areas of Chicago. I've never once seen him. He mails us a once-yearly update on his activities, and that's it. No speeches, no visits, no town hall meetings, no invitations, no phone calls, nothing. My question is, aren't these practices typical among politicians, especially those who represent hundreds of thousands or millions of people? I'm assuming Kerry, like Davis or anyone else, plays to his core constituency and answers to those who are demanding of his time. Did you ask anyone in Roxbury what they've done to get involved in the presidential campaign? Are you concerned that by noting the black-white dichotomy in the Kerry-Roxbury thing you're implying a racial aloofness that may or may not exist? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: In Roxbury, the Personal Is Political (washingtonpost.com video)

Terry Neal: Well you really packed a lot in there. I try not to imply anything, I just say it. And my point was, Kerry needs black voters to turn out in large numbers and that there seems to be some ambivilance among the black voters who know him best. I suppose there might be a story to be done about how people don't go out of there way to get involved, but that's not the story I was working on.

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Arlington, Va.: Terry, you are a class act. Your first answer defused that obviously agenda driven questioner. Thanks for doing this.

Terry Neal: You're welcome. And thanks for your kind words!

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Terry Neal: Hey you all, I've gotta run. It's been a total pleasure. Please join me again tomorrow for our final night "Chatting with Terry."
Good night!

Terry

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