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Convention Dispatches Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Monday, July 26, 2004; 10:00 PM

The 2004 Democratic National Convention kicked off amid tight security in Boston with speeches from former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former presidents Clinton and Carter.

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions about the Democratic convention and the latest speeches.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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.


Terry Neal: Good evening all. It's good to be with you, and I'm looking forward to chatting with you tonight and throughout the week here on washingtonpost.com.
So let's chat.



Detroit, Mich.: Gore seems to have found his way to recognize the value of Bill Clinton.

Terry Neal: Yes, I thought his comments tonight were interesting. There are many Democrats today who believe he would be president now had he not run from Clinton in the 2000 election.
I also thought it was one of the better speeches I've heard Gore give--certainly better than most of those he delivered in 2000 when he was a candidate.


Philadelphia, Pa.: It's been said that the reason that networks have cut back on convention coverage is because they are too scripted. Is the real reason that they've scaled back is because conventions are infomercials and that they don't like carrying political rallies free of charge to the candidates?

Terry Neal: I think the biggest reason the networks have cut back is because increasingly there is a dearth of news at these things. There's much less real conflict, fewer floor squabbles and less visible squabbling (although some interesting things go on behind the scenes, covering these sorts of things are not the broadcast media's forte.
On the other hand, there is still some journalistic value in covering the convention. It's the only time folks from all over the country to get together in support of a candidate. The platform development process is always interesting, and says much about the direction of a party. It's also a good time for the media to judge the level of enthusiasm delegates and activists have for their candidate-to-be.


Annandale Va.: It seems that solidly blue and red states will remain that way. However the swing states seem to be slightly clearer this time. With shifting demographics in places like New Mexico, weak manufacturing jobs in the midwest, a potential for a energized black vote in Florida and an overall muted enthusiasm for Nader, what can be infered about how this states will vote this time around.

Terry Neal: Nothing at this point.
Look, in many ways, the race begins this week. The conventions mark the period when most people really start paying attention to the campaign. And that's what all of this is about this week--Kerry's opportunity to tell people who he is and explain to the nation why it should change directions midcourse.
At this point, I assume nothing--not even that the solidly red and blue states will remain that way. I've always thought that the whole red state/blue state thing was an oversimplification in the first place.


Rolla, Mo.: Reflecting back to the disasterous Gore campaign in 2000, why has Donna Brazille become the Democratic Strategist Expert (along with Carville)when she was intimately involved in fumbling the ball at the goal line? Did Gore not listen to her guidance, or was her advice poor?

Terry Neal: Well, look, a campaign manager is always going to bear some share of the blame for losing. That's the price of leadership. But I don't think most Democrats blame Brazile for what happened in 2000. In fact, you could argue that she did her part. Gore won the popular vote. And after election, Gore's fate became more of an issue for lawyers than for his campaign staff.


Terry Neal: Excuse me for a few minutes. I need to break away to do a quick interview on CNN Headline News. Catch me there if you like, but please come back and finish chatting with me when I'm done!


Chiba, Japan: Finally a live discussion I can join in live! Today Robert Kaiser in his debate discussion suggested there was some worry that Al Gore could rile things up with a negative speech at a convention where the organizers hope to keep the mood positive. I caught only the end of the speech on the Post website, but he sounded positively subdued. Said some nice things about the candidates and suggested chanelling 2000 anger into working hard to elect Kerry/Edwards. Even the final kiss with Tipper seemed subdued (comparatively). Did I miss anything more exciting earlier in the speech?

Terry Neal: Thanks for your message...If you came in at the end of the speech, you missed a few Bush zingers that were in the beginning of the speech. But overall, the speech didn't appear to be extraordinarily negative.
Look, sometimes we in the media confuse this issue of negativity. Campaigns are about laying out differences in vision and even criticizing the other candidate for his/her positions. That's not necessarily an "attack." I think that's the challenge for Democrats this week: Lay out the the very real policy differences, without being overtly negative while at the same time, keeping just enough anti-Bush verbiage to please the base, which is in an angry, surly mood this year.


Vienna, Va.: As one of those undecided voters, I was not impressed with Jimmy Carter's speech. I remember how the US also lost a lot of prestige during his administration (Iran hostage crisis helplessness), so I don't think he's one to criticize George W. Bush in that regard. But I concur with your view that Al Gore gave a great speech tonight, unfortunately this was not characteristic of him during the 2000 campaign!

Terry Neal: I'm getting quite a bit of comment on Carter's speech. I'll share with you all the thoughts of two different readers, without commenting on them. They speak for themselves...


Pembroke, Mass.: I have been waiting for President Carter's speech for 23 years. I really hope enough people were listening.

Terry Neal: Pembroke Pines sees things quite differently


Washington, D.C.: So, Terry, is this Hillary's big dress rehearsal?

Terry Neal: I don't think there's much doubt that if things don't work out for Kerry this year, Hillary is up to bat in 2008. But I don't think she needs a dress rehearsal, in the sense that she and her husband have commanded the stage for such a long time.


Vexed Feminist: Interesting how the Republican oppo research machine seems to be focusing on Democratic women such as Teresa Heinz-Kerry and Christie Vilsack during this convention week. Of course, they had a lot of practice vilifying Hillary Clinton. Just hope Elizabeth Edwards hasn't uttered an untoward remark in the last 15, 20 years.

Terry Neal: I like that word, "vexed." I've got to find a way to work that into a sentence tomorrow. Shouldn't be too difficult.
As for your comment, I understand that it is a common perception among Democrats.
On the other hand, when someone runs for president, the spouse becomes a public figure too, fair or not. Things like Heinz-Kerry's comment today to that reporter are going to generate coverage, as well as a lot of comment from the other side.
I'll leave it to others to decide whether the Republicans are a bunch of big 'ole meannies to Dem women.


Terry Neal: Thank you all so very much for your excellent questions. I'm going to jump offline now. But I look forward to chatting again tomorrow, same time, same place.
Take care and have a great evening.



Military; Overseas: How will the different guest speakers at the DNC approach the war in Iraq and any plans for the future of Iraq, granted Sen. Kerry wins in November?

Terry Neal:
I think I know what you're asking me, but I'm not completely sure. So I hope I address your question...Iraq is THE issue around which everything else revolves, I believe. It is the issue that motivates Democrats more than anything else. And I believe almost every speaker will reference it, either explicitly or implicitly. I think you'll be hearing more on the theme that Bush has stretched the military too dangerously thin proportions--ultimately making the U.S. less safe.
If you're asking me whether the speakers will urge the withdrawal of U.S. troops, I doubt that. I think the Kucinich contingent still loses out to those who believe that while the U.S. should not have gone to war in Iraq in the first place, it must see this thing through.


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