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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Kerry's wife says he's 'first in the line of fire'

 •  Obama speech does Democrats proud
 •  Sister, other viewers here proud of keynote speaker
 •  Island attorney excited about being delegate

Advertiser News Services

BOSTON — On the eve of her husband's formal selection as the Democratic presidential nominee, Teresa Heinz Kerry yesterday offered a full-throated defense of him — and of her own sometimes controversial public style.

Heinz Kerry, who drew unwanted attention to herself earlier in the week by telling a conservative journalist to "shove it," alluded to the controversy in a speech to the Democratic convention but offered no regrets.

"My name is Teresa Heinz Kerry — and by now I hope it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have something to say," she told the cheering delegates. "My only hope is that one day soon, women — who have all earned the right to their opinions — instead of being labeled opinionated will be called smart or well-informed, just as men are."

Speaking in a softly modulated voice, she went on to praise her husband, Sen. John Kerry, saying: "John is a fighter. He earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line for his country. No one will defend this nation more vigorously than he will — and he will always be first in the line of fire. But he also knows the importance of getting it right."

Recalling Abraham Lincoln's famous line urging Americans to summon "the better angels of our nature," Heinz Kerry said: "Today, the better angels of our nature are just waiting to be summoned. We only require a leader who is willing to call on them ... I think I've found just the guy. I'm married to him."

Before Heinz Kerry's speech concluded the second night of the convention, veteran Democratic warrior Ted Kennedy primed the delegates with a red-meat speech ripping the Bush administration and touting Kerry.

Kennedy's speech was a marked departure from the positive tone that party leaders said they were seeking before the convention opened. But it delighted the delegates, who turned the convention floor into a sea of blue and white "Kennedy" signs and erupted in applause throughout his address.

The other major speaker, Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois, also brought the delegates to their feet, but with a very different type of speech.

He offered his life story as the son of an interracial, international couple as a symbol of what he called "the possibilities of this nation" and the Democratic message of "a politics of hope."

Kennedy's stridently partisan tone also contrasted with a high-profile speech delivered by Ron Reagan, the son of GOP icon Ronald Reagan.

Kennedy, the senior Massachusetts senator, compared his party's quest to recapture the White House with the battle of American colonists to win independence from England.

"The goals of the American people are every bit as high as they were more than 200 years ago," he said. "If America is failing to reach them today, it's not because our ideals need replacing, it's because our president needs replacing."

Kennedy even suggested a similarity between the English monarch of colonial days, George III, and President Bush. "Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown — although it often seems that way," he said.

And in a rhetorical riff that triggered his biggest ovation, Kennedy said: "If each of us cared about the public interest, we wouldn't have the excesses of Enron. We wouldn't have the abuses of Halliburton. And Vice President (Dick) Cheney would be retired to an undisclosed location. Soon, thanks to John Kerry and John Edwards, he'll have ample time to do just that."

Even before Kennedy spoke, Republican officials were complaining about the tone of the convention.

"We saw that despite Sen. Kerry's promise and the Democrats' promise to have a positive convention, we've seen a number of attacks and today the papers are full of describing how Sen. Kerry has deviated from this plan," said GOP National Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Several of Kerry's former primary foes had their turn at the convention podium. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who stirred emotions early in the campaign when he vowed to represent the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," drew some of the loudest applause of the night.

"I was hoping for a reception like this. I was just kind of hoping it was going to be on Thursday night," he said, a reference to when Kerry delivers his acceptance speech.

Reagan, the son of the recently deceased 40th president, was perhaps the night's most unusual speaker if for no other reason than his father's political pedigree.

Although insisting that he was "not here to make a political speech," he left no doubt about his own support for Kerry because of Bush's decision to limit federal financing for stem cell research.

For all the professional political speechmaking, it fell to 12-year-old Ilana Wexler of Oakland, Calif., founder of Kids for Kerry, to evoke some of the loudest applause of the night.

"Our vice president deserves a long time-out," she said of Dick Cheney, who recently cussed out Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the Senate floor.

Kerry, meanwhile, campaigned in Virginia and Pennsylvania en route to his arrival in the convention city today.

"I will and I can fight a more effective war on terror than George Bush is," he said at a Philadelphia rally.

Later, from his hotel room, he watched his wife's speech to the delegates.

"She looks great," he said.

Kerry's vice presidential running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, was in town, anticipating his appearance before the delegates and a prime-time television audience tonight.

Kerry is in an enviable position for a challenger, with many pre-convention polls showing him even or slightly ahead of Bush. At the same time, a new Washington Post-ABC poll underscored the challenge confronting the Democrat during his four-day convention.

More than half the voters surveyed said they knew only some or hardly at all about his positions on the issues. And more than 40 percent of those polled rated Kerry as too liberal on most issues.

Newsday, The Associated Press and Knight Ridder News Service contributed to this report.