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Last Updated: Monday, 26 July, 2004, 01:16 GMT 02:16 UK
Kerry looks for convention bounce

By Rob Watson
BBC, at the Democratic convention in Boston

It is true what the American news networks say that there is no news at the party conventions.

Kerry has to show he is a viable altenative to President Bush

They are carefully stage-managed political set pieces, but that is exactly what they are supposed to be.

The way both parties treat conventions in modern times is a way to present their candidates in the best possible light with no glitches, with no controversy and with no news.

It is political theatre, but that is not to say that it should be dismissed.

The Democratic convention where John Kerry will officially accept the party's nomination for president is very important indeed.

Wooing the undecided

The convention is an important chance for John Kerry to introduce himself to people who know nothing about him.

The measure of whether this has been a successful convention for John Kerry will be how much of a bounce in the polls he gets.

Opinion polls suggest that there are perhaps some 30% of the American electorate who feel they don't know anything about John Kerry, hard as that is to believe in this age of cable television and constant political advertisements.

And it is important because this gives a chance for John Kerry to close the deal.

This is John Kerry's chance to win over those voters who are out there and thinking that they don't particularly like President Bush anymore but haven't really made up their minds about whether Mr Kerry is a viable alternative.

That is what this convention will be all about.

It will be about presenting John Kerry in the best possible light and trying to persuade the some 17% of voters who say they are still on the fence.

John Kerry's message

At this convention, put most simply, John Kerry has to show that he is a viable alternative to President Bush

Expect a lot of references to Kerry's service in Vietnam

He must prove to the American people that he is someone they could trust to put in the White House.

More specifically, that means that he has to show the American people that they can trust him in the war on terrorism, that he could handle things in Iraq better than Mr Bush and that he can be a good steward on the economy.

Interestingly, opinion polls already show that on most issues that John Kerry is ahead of President Bush, certainly when it comes to domestic issues such as economy, healthcare and education.

The one area where President Bush is still leading, but barely, is on the conduct of the war on terror.

That is why one theme that John Kerry will hit over and over again at the convention is strength.

John Kerry and the Democrats will try to paint President Bush's administration as catering to the rich

The second theme that he will emphasise is a personal one. He will use his biography to introduce himself to the American people.

I expect to see a lot of references to his service in Vietnam and his experience in foreign affairs in the Senate.

Politically, he will focus on two themes.

In foreign affairs, he will say that although the United States will not hold its security hostage to the United Nations or anyone else, he will talk a lot about the need for America to rebuild its relationships overseas.

This idea of restoring America's image abroad will be very important.

Domestically, the theme will be one of fairness.

John Kerry and the Democrats will try to paint President Bush's administration as catering to the rich.

They will say that the Bush administration has made things better for the best off people in the United States but has not been so kind to the middle class and the less well off.

The convention bounce

The measure of whether this has been a successful convention for John Kerry will be how much of a bounce in the polls he gets.

I suspect that the Kerry campaign would be very happy to see a lead of 10 percentage points coming out of the convention.

Right now, Mr Kerry and President Bush are in something of a statistical dead heat.

Anything like a double digit lead coming out the convention, and they would consider it a week's work well done.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"The race for the White House has just got a little louder, and a lot more public"

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