2004: Democratic National Convention



By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS


The 2004 Democratic National Convention convened from July 26-29 at the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico served as the chairman. The convention nominated Senator John Forbes Kerry (Massachusetts) for president on the first ballot, and Senator John Edwards (North Carolina) by acclamation for vice president. The venue for the convention was chosen all away back in 2002, but the fact that is was being held in the candidate home state, a state known for its liberalism was an attack point incumbent Republican George W. Bush’s campaign emphasized for their advantage. The major television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC decided in 2004 to only broadcast an hour of the convention each night from 10-11pm, so the official televised transmission of the conventions was condensed into only three hours. Cable News including CNN and Fox News took over full coverage of every aspect of the conventions three-day schedules.[1]
Kerry led slightly in the polls prior to the convention according to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll 49 percent to Bush’s 48 percent, but he was trailing relating to “leadership qualities” 54 percent to 37 percent. The view of Kerry as a flip-flopper was also affecting his polling regarding “does not change his positions on issues for political reasons” 52 percent to 30 percent.[2] The convention was meant to bolster Kerry’s leadership image. Polling also indicated that Kerry was viewed as a liberal where a majority of Americans did not identify with liberal issues. Instead the campaign and convention aimed at appealing to moderates and independent voters, many of which viewed the economy as an important issue. Therefore, the convention focused on the economy and limited direct attacks on Bush and addressing distinctly liberal issues.[3]


The convention focused on the major issues of terrorism and the war in Iraq, health care, taxes, and economic revival. Since Kerry’s military service was a key part of the campaign and the persona the campaign was selling, it was also a central theme of the convention. The campaign issued a brief statement that summarized the message and themes of the campaign; “A strong team with the right plan for America. John Kerry is a dedicated combat veteran. John Edwards has spent his life standing up against powerful interests. Together, they will make health care affordable and accessible for all Americans, create and keep jobs In America, make us independent from Mideast oil, and restore America’s respect in the world.”[4] Each night of the campaign was designated a particular theme.


The Democratic Party platform was entitled “Strong at Home, Respected in the World,” and it was divided into four sections. Part one was a “A Strong, Respected America” on the War on Terrorism, energy independence, military strengthening and homeland security. Part two was “A Strong, Growing Economy” on helping the middle class and job creation. Part three “Strong, Healthy Families” on health care, education and the environmental policy. Finally part four was “A Strong American Community” on civil rights.[5]


Opening night, Monday, July 26, 2004 the theme was “The Kerry-Edwards Plan for America’s Future.” The line-up featured Democratic presidents and leaders of the past including Former President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Former Vice President Al Gore and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton who introduced her husband former President Clinton addressed the convention. Carter, Clinton and Gore mostly attacked Bush record on domestic and foreign policy in their remarks and seemed like a continuous comparison of Democratic and Republican approaches to leadership.[6]


On Tuesday, July 27, 2004 the theme was “A Lifetime of Strength and Service” focusing on Kerry’s biography, character and party unity featuring leaders in the Democratic Party and former 2004 presidential candidates. Massachusetts Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy spoke about hallmark Democratic domestic issues. Former Governor Howard Dean, Rep. Richard Gephardt, Senator Carol Moseley Braun and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle all endorsed Kerry in their speeches, putting the divisive campaign behind them. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and the wife of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Christie Vilsack both spoke about “jobs, education and health care.” Ron Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan, who died from complication of Alzheimer’s also spoke primarily advocating need to increase funding for stem cell research. Reagan was supposed to show cross-over appeal, but his speech was at odds with the rest of the evening’s topics. [7] Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz Kerry also addressed the convention providing the leading Kerry biographical element of the evening, however, she spoke more about herself, than humanize her husband, who needed to show a more personal side to his image to appeal to voters.[8]


Senator Richard Durbin introduced the up and coming Democratic star, Illinois state senator Barack Obama who delivered the keynote speech. Kerry chose Illinois state senator Barack Obama, who was that year’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois to deliver the keynote address. Obama’s speech focused on unity across political parties and ideology, aimed at the independents and moderate voters the Democrats were trying to appeal to.[9] Obama spoke of his personal background as an African American, with a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, and recounted his atypical biography, saying; “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” [10]


Obama gave examples and juxtapositions as to what bridges the divide; “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America…We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” [11] Obama’s keynote address was not broadcast on the major television networks because it was scheduled before 10 PM; the address however, was televised on the specialized news stations including CNN. Obama became a star based on the new reports and video of speech posted on the web.


On Wednesday, July 28 the theme was “A Stronger More Secure America” emphasizing the campaign’s position regarding national security and the War on Terror. The evening continued the string of former 2004 presidential candidates, who endorsed Kerry, including; Sen. Bob Graham, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and Rev. Al Sharpton. The main event of the evening was Edward’s address accepting the nomination for vice president. Edward’s daughter Cate introduced her mother Elizabeth Edwards, who formally introduced the vice presidential nominee.[12]


Edwards delivered his “Two Americas” speech formally accepting the vice presidential nomination also focusing on bridging the divide within the country. Edwards emphasized that the Kerry-Edwards campaign has the solutions to the problems that divide the country both at home and abroad promising that “Hope is on the way.” The speech formally entitled “Build One America” was divided in four sections; domestic policy and the economy, foreign policy and the War in Iraq, “restoring America’s credibility in the world”; the last part focused on personal examples and anecdotes, [13] concluding; “Let’s make America stronger at home and more respected in the world. Let’s ensure that once again, in our one America — our one America — tomorrow will always be better than today.”[14]


Right after Edward’s speech the formal roll call to nominate Kerry as the Democratic presidential nominee began. Prior to the convention all the other nominees released their delegates, except for some of Dennis Kucinich’s, some of his delegates voted for Kucinich, and others who were prevented from doing so, instead abstained from voting rather than vote for Kerry. Therefore Kerry received the nomination on the first ballot, but not by acclamation. The results were as follows; John Kerry: 4,253 votes 98.40%; Dennis Kucinich: 43 votes; 0.99%; Abstentions: 26 votes, 0.60%, totaling 4,322 votes 100.00%. Vice President John Edwards however, was chosen by acclamation.[15]


The last night of the convention July 29, 2004 the theme was “Stronger at Home, Respected in the World” summing up the campaign’s domestic and foreign policy positions. The evening’s speakers were meant to introduce Kerry to the American electorate; among the speakers of the evening including, introductions by Kerry’s stepsons Christopher and Andre Heinz, and Kerry’s daughters Alexandra and Vanessa. Throughout the campaign there was a difficulty in humanizing Kerry, but his daughters recounting their personal anecdotes of their father were able to accomplish what nobody could before, even his wife.[16]


The Kerry children’s introductions were followed by a campaign biographical video, narrated by actor Morgan Freedman. The video emphasized his early life, and military experience, but rushed over his time in the Senate. It included an interview with Kerry and his wife and concluded that; “Time and again, John Kerry has been there for our nation, a soldier who understands the importance of peace, a leader who knows how to listen, a father dedicated to the children of our nation, a man devoted to our country’s remarkable promise.”[17]


Kerry’s crewmates from Vietnam were the next to give tribute to the nominee leading up to his speech, including Jim Rassmann, who Kerry saved in Vietnam and delivered a statement of praise to Kerry and introduced former Georgia Senator and veteran Max Cleland who was to formally introduce Kerry and gave the nominating speech. Cleland concluded his speech in praise; “Tonight, I am honored to introduce to you another son of liberty, a brother in arms, a man called by destiny at this fateful hour in our nation’s history. He is my brother. He is my friend. He is my hero. Ladies and gentleman, tonight, John Kerry is able to answer this nation’s call.” Cleland’s speech was not televised except for the last few minutes on ABC.[18]


Most of the network coverage for the evening started with Kerry’s entrance accompanied by Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender.”[19] Keeping to the military theme Kerry commenced his speech and accepted the nomination by stating; “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.” Kerry introduced the theme of the night and his speech declaring; “My fellow Americans, we are here tonight united in one simple purpose: to make America stronger at home and respected in the world.” Kerry’s speech was divided by three parts, his background, foreign policy and national security and domestic policy and economic opportunity.  Although the campaign intended to focus on appealing to moderates and independents Kerry attacked the Bush Administration, stating “My first pledge to you tonight: As president, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House,” followed by policy contrasts.[20]


Kerry tried to portray himself as tough on national security and defense issues, but differentiate the threshold level to going to war, he outlined how he would deal with national security, the military and the War on Terrorism, still he promised; “I will never hesitate to use force when it is required.” Kerry concluded this section with the key quote of his acceptance speech “the future doesn’t belong to fear, it belongs to freedom.”[21]


Moving towards domestic policy Kerry again differentiated the Bush Administration policies with what his ticket would do, explain that it would be “Not narrow values that divide us, but shared values that unite us…That is the American dream and the American value.” Kerry outlined his plans for the economy, job creation, cutting taxes, health care and energy policy, by intertwining stories from Americans, and the same time using the refrain Edwards used in his speech the night before, stating; “America can do better. And help is on the way.”[22]


In the last part of his speech Kerry called for a unified and respectful general election campaign.  Kerry used similar rhetoric as Obama did his keynote address, pointing out “Maybe some just see us divided into red states and blue states, but I see us as one America red, white, and blue.” Kerry also invited people of faith to support his ticket, a voting bloc that is traditionally Republican. Kerry promised his administration would be unifying and that faith is not exclusive to only one party, expressing “These aren’t Democratic values. These aren’t Republican values. They’re American values.”


Kerry ended his speech with some historical “What if[s]?”, and continued about future possibilities, concluding; “It is time to reach for the next dream. It is time to look to the next horizon. For America, the hope is there. The sun is rising. Our best days are still to come.”[23] With those words the convention ended with Kerry joined by his wife, Theresa, and John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth on the stage followed by their families in the traditional end of convention victory celebration. The convention’s aim at appealing to moderates and independents prevented the Democrats from attacking their Republican opponents and presenting a clearly defined Democratic and liberal message. The strategy did not work, as the Kerry-Edwards ticket failed to benefit from the usual post-convention “bounce” in the polls,[24] in fact after the convention Kerry-Edwards saw a dip in the polls, according to the USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll Kerry-Edwards had 47 percent support to the Bush-Cheney campaign’s 48 percent.[25]




Ceaser, James W. and Andrew Busch. Red over blue: the 2004 elections and American politics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.


CNN Reporters, “Democratic Nation Convention Daily Schedule,” “Monday, July 26, Tuesday, July 27, Wednesday, July 28, Thursday, July 29,” CNN, America Votes 2004 http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/special/president/convention/dnc/schedules/monday.html



http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/special/president/convention/dnc/schedules/thursday.html (Accessed April 26, 2014)



Denton, Robert E. Jr. The 2004 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective. Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.


John F. Kerry, “Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston,” Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project, July 29, 2004 (Accessed May 6, 2014), http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25971


Newport, Frank. “Kerry’s Speech Thursday’s address could be key to election.” Gallup News Service. July 29, 2004, (Accessed April 26, 2014) http://www.gallup.com/poll/12547/kerrys-speech.aspx


Obama, Barack. “Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama.” The Washington Post, July 27, 2004, (Accessed May 6, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html


Wikipedia contributors, “2004 Democratic National Convention,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (Accessed May 6, 2014), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Democratic_National_Convention






[1] Robert E. Denton, Jr. The 2004 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective. (Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), p. 30.

[2] Frank Newport. “Kerry’s Speech Thursday’s address could be key to election.”

Gallup News Service, July 29, 2004. (Accessed April 26, 2014) http://www.gallup.com/poll/12547/kerrys-speech.aspx; Denton, p. 30.

[3] Ibid., p. 30-31.

[4] Ibid., p. 31.

[5] Wikipedia contributors, “2004 Democratic National Convention,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Democratic_National_Convention (Accessed May 6, 2014).

[6] Denton, The 2004 Presidential Campaign, 2005, p. 38.

[7] Ibid., p. 38.

[8] Ibid., p. 42.

[9] Ibid., p. 38.

[10] Barack Obama. “Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama.” The Washington Post, July 27, 2004. (Accessed May 6, 2014) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] Denton, The 2004 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective, 2005, p. 42.

[13] Denton. The 2004 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective, 2005, p. 44.

[14] “Text: Sen. John Edwards Speech to DNC.” The Washington Post, July 28, 2004. (Accessed May 6, 2014) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22230-2004Jul28.html

[15] Wikipedia contributors, “2004 Democratic National Convention,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (Accessed May 6, 2014). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Democratic_National_Convention

[16] Denton, The 2004 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective, 2005, p. 45.

[17] Ibid., p. 45-46.

[18] Ibid., p. 46.

[19] Ibid., p. 46.

[20] John F. Kerry, “Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston,” Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project, July 29, 2004 (Accessed May 6, 2014), http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25971

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Denton, The 2004 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective, 2005, p. 49.

[25] Wikipedia contributors, “2004 Democratic National Convention,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Democratic_National_Convention (accessed May 6, 2014).

“No Convention Bounce For Kerry,” CBS News, February 11, 2009, (Accessed May 25, 2014), http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/08/02/politics/main633561.shtml

Susan Page, “So why did Bush, not Kerry, get the bounce?”. USAToday.Com, August 3, 2004, (Accessed May 25, 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-08-02-poll-cover_x.htm


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