Democrats kick off their hearings on writing their platform, a statement on what the party should stand for in the election, beginning Saturday in Oregon, a state Al Gore (searchwon narrowly in 2000.

The Democratic National Platform Drafting Committee (searchwill be headed by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (search), D-Conn., and will hold a series of five hearings — all in swing states — to solicit input for the platform. The meetings, held by both major parties before the national conventions, are open forums that allow witnesses to testify before the drafting committee.

Hearings also will be held in Louisiana, Ohio, New Mexico and Florida. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush (searchcaptured all but New Mexico.

DeLauro said the platform will feature issues on which presumptive nominee John Kerry differs with the Bush administration, including Iraq, homeland security, the economy and health care.

"We're trying to develop a forward looking policy for the future," she said. "The country is desperate for a new policy agenda, both domestically and internationally."

DeLauro, co-chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee (search), has become known for the frequent policy dinners she hosts for members of Congress. While serving as assistant to former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, DeLauro coordinated the Democrats' communications and policy message.

Once that job ended and she moved to the steering panel, she continued to set up policy sessions for members of Congress featuring a wide array of federal officials, political experts, authors and members of the media who speak on legislative issues.

DeLauro said she will use that experience to reach out to people who know and understand the issues the country is facing.

And while Democrats have not been entirely united in some areas — including the war in Iraq — she said she does not expect much divisiveness as they map out the party's platform.

"Senator Kerry has laid out his thoughts on a whole range of issues and there is a great sense of optimism and unity within the party," she said.

Members of the committee will consider the comments when writing the platform, which will be presented at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, July 26-29. Republicans have not finalized their plans for the platform process, according to the party. The GOP convention is a month later in New York — from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.

While voters may consider platforms when casting their ballots, the platforms themselves are nonbinding on the presidential nominees or any other candidates.

The platform hearings will create a Democratic presence in five states critical to candidate John Kerry and the Bush-Cheney campaign. Both parties are running television ads in the states.

Dates of the 2004 Democratic platform hearings:

—May 22: Portland, Ore.

—June 5: Baton Rouge, La.

—June 11: Columbus, Ohio.

—June 18: Santa Fe, N.M.

—July 9: Miami.