US Democratic convention opens

Around 5,000 delegates, 15,000 party faithful and 15,000 journalists have packed themselves into Boston’s Fleet Centre sports arena where Mr Kerry will pitch himself to the nation as the best man for America’s top job, before being formally endorsed as the Democratic candidate on July 29.

His supporters hope his acceptance speech will be much stronger then the ceremonial pitch he threw at the start of a baseball match between his hometown favourite the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

The ball bounced feebly towards home plate and a waiting US soldier recently returned from service in Iraq, making for a less than impressive display that drew as many jeers as cheers from the stadium.

Iraq, security and the economy are the big issues that the Senator and Vietnam War veteran will have to convince the public he is capable of handling, to get him over the line in the presidential race.

With some 3,000 personnel guarding the Fleet Centre from the threat of land, sea and air attacks as a backdrop, the Democrats will take centre stage with a theme of ‘Stronger at Home, Respected in the World’, and argue the case for a need to focus on counter-terrorism and repairing the rifts to global alliances caused by the war in Iraq.

While opinion polls are placing him neck-and-neck with President George W Bush, the 60-year-old Massachusetts politician has a lot of catching up to do in boosting his profile.

A Time magazine poll at the weekend showed that only 29 percent of voters felt the knew a ‘great deal’ about John Kerry, compared to 67 percent saying they knew ‘a great deal’ about President Bush.

With four days, 60 speeches by the likes of former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and plenty of high-tech pageantry, the Democratic election machine is hoping to change that.

The Democrats also plan to show a considerable amount of biographical material to support testimonials on Mr Kerry’s fortitude and leadership qualities, to counter Republican charges he is weak and waffling on security matters.

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