Monday, July 26, 2004

Speech advice: Be upbeat, stick to message, be gone

By Ron Fournier
The Associated Press

BOSTON - In a windowless room beneath the podium, a team of speechwriters is imposing John Kerry's will on the words of the other speakers at the Democratic National Convention. Their orders: Go easy on the Bush bashing.

Each speech is read and re-read, heavily edited and rehearsed as part of a tightly controlled process designed to impress independent voters who are tired of negative politics. Mindful of polls showing voters say they need more information about Kerry, the team also is ensuring that speeches are laced with the candidate's biography and policies.

Campaign spokeswoman Debra DeShong said speakers are getting clear direction from the Kerry team "because we do have a very clear message that John Kerry and John Edwards will make us stronger at home and respected in the world."

For most speakers, the process began when they received a three-page memo titled "Procedures for Convention Speakers" from Jack Corrigan, Kerry's convention point man. It offered the services of speechwriters and coaches, as well as personal assistants to help speakers navigate security, deadlines and other big-day minutia.

First drafts were due a week before the convention, Corrigan wrote, warning that "suggestions" might be made "to help highlight the campaign's themes for the convention."

In case they didn't get the message, the speechwriting team, headed by Californian Vicky Rideout, contacted speakers or their staffs with guidance:

• Keep it short. Speakers assumed they had more than the typical three minutes to deliver their remarks. Several egos were bruised.

• Stick to the message. Each night of the convention has a theme, such as plans for America's future today.

• Keep it positive. Criticism of Bush is allowed, but only as a subtle or indirect dig when comparing Kerry's vision to Bush's record. Red meat won't be served at this convention.

The Kerry strategy is based on polls showing more than 90 percent of voters firmly aligned with one party or another, with as little as 5 percent up for grabs. Kerry's polling shows that those "persuadable" voters don't like negative politics. They give Bush poor approval ratings, but they still aren't comfortable enough with Kerry to vote against the incumbent.

"Swing and independent voters are very much up for grabs. Kerry has to make the sale, and he has a long way to go to make the sale," said Harold Ickes, who helped run President Clinton's re-election convention in 1996.

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