Deep in this corner of rural Georgia, in the foothills of Lookout Mountain, lives the secret weapon of the Democratic Party.

Most of the local Republican operatives wouldn't recognize him as such. He's fairly quiet and mostly keeps to himself. But he's all but guaranteed to be the focus of photographers' lenses when he attends his party's national convention this month in Boston.

People call him Swifty. To the Democrats, he's the official donkey delegate of their 2004 national convention.

This purebred donkey is packing it up for the 942-mile haul to New England to help win over undecided voters for his party's man, John Kerry.

Increased security measures because of the threat of terrorism almost kept Swifty out of the convention. No one but delegates and staff -- not even officially designated donkeys -- will be allowed into the convention venue, the Fleet Center.

No one in charge of the vendor area near the center seemed to know what to do with a donkey, and the official word from convention organizers was that there would be no room for Swifty.

"I was almost in tears," said Bridget Martin, a spokeswoman for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers who helped organize the donkey's trip for Swifty's handler, Michael Powell, a member of the union. "I was so upset when I got word that it wasn't going to happen."

Enter the Kerry campaign, where officials had heard of the four-legged delegate's plight and were determined to make the trip happen.

"I was called by Senator Kerry's office and asked if we'd be able to accommodate Swifty," said Jo Anne Baxter, a spokeswoman for the Boston zoo.

She was quick to point out that the move to accommodate Swifty wasn't a partisan one.

"If President Bush wants to come and have an elephant greeting our visitors, he'd be welcomed as well," she said.

When asked about the burden of being the Democrats' official mascot, Swifty declined to comment during an exclusive interview Friday at his stable in extreme northwest Georgia.

Instead, he kept silent with his mouth full, chewing on weeds growing near the corner of his stall.

That was his response to all the questions.

The 10-year-old, gray, brown and white donkey, who worked briefly on a stud farm before entering politics, will be housed at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo during the convention. He will be greeting Democratic delegates as they enter the park for one of the convention's biggest parties.

It will be his second convention appearance. He made his political debut in 2000, when he greeted delegates at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (His overnight accommodations, by the way, were in Beverly Hills.)

Swifty's owner first got involved in politics more than two decades ago.

"I started fooling with politics back in 1980. I was real high on Jimmy Carter," said the 61-year-old farmer, who donned a black cowboy hat and blue Kerry button during the interview.

He decided six years ago that his farm would be a good home for his party's animal mascot.

"I probably shopped for this donkey for a year to find the one I wanted," says Powell. "When I found him, I knew right off that he was the right donkey."

But there was a problem. A Baptist who never drinks alcohol, Powell was upset with the animal's name -- Tennessee Whiskey.

He made up his mind to change it. And although Swifty's name conjures images of the Swift boat Kerry famously piloted during the Vietnam War, Powell actually lifted it from a character in a movie western.

But Powell's an old hand at politically appropriate animal names.

He rode his mule down Pennsylvania Avenue in both of Bill Clinton's inaugural parades.

The mule's name? Bill.

Swifty, at home in Georgia. He'll be staying at the Boston zoo.Swifty the donkey, with owner Morris Powell, will be the mascot of the Democratic convention.