BOSTON – The Democratic National Convention (search) was in full swing Monday afternoon after party Chairman Terry McAuliffe kicked off the big event by calling the delegates to begin a four-day rally meant to highlight John Kerry's (search) vision for America.
"We’re here to win back the White House, to win back the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives," Rep. Debbi Stabenow (search), D-Mich., said as she helped kick off a long line of speakers scheduled for the day. "We’re here to take back our country … win back the respect and admiration of the world."
"The stakes have never been higher," added Lottie Shackelford, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "The key to this election: K-E-Y — Kerry, Edwards and You."
Democrats are trying to convince the world that their ticket — Kerry, the presumptive presidential nominee, and John Edwards (search), Kerry's Senate colleague and his vice presidential choice — is the only one who can make America a better place.
"It’s the Democratic Party that is fighting to make sure our children have the education they need, our family has the health care they need and that hard-working immigrants have a way to earn legalization," said Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. "The American dream is alive in this party and in this convention hall today ... together, we’re going to make history."
Seven hours of speeches will follow, as Democratic stars get on stage to pump up Day One's theme: Kerry and running mate John Edwards' plans to create a stronger America by expanding jobs and health care coverage, modernizing the military and improving international relations.
"Working families are working together to elect an American president who is on our side," said Linda Chavez Thompson, vice chair of the DNC and formerly an executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. "In November, we’re going to make the land we love the land it should be."
New Mexico governor and convention chairman Bill Richardson will gavel in the convention at 8 p.m. for a prime-time line-up that is to include former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
A remembrance commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks will be conducted and singer Patti LaBelle will close out the night's events.
Security, Security, Security
At the Fleet Center (search), security was tight as media personnel swarmed the cramped venue, fighting for floor space to prepare for the 4,353 delegates who will take part in the quadrennial coronation of the Democratic presidential candidate.
Camouflaged military police took up positions along elevated rail lines overlooking the FleetCenter, which was transformed from an athletic arena for the big event. Fences bordered nearly empty streets, where many stores had closed up shop for the week.
A cordoned-off area complete with netting overhead and a fence surrounding it was reserved for protesters.
Inside the building, rows of 100,000 red, white and blue balloons were suspended from the ceiling, ready to be dropped after Kerry accepts his nomination Thursday night.
Signs emblazoned with phrases such as "America 2004: A Stronger America" and "Join Us at Johnkerry.com" were posted around the main convention center floor.
Kerry, however, spent the day down in Florida on Monday after a brief and unexpected visit to Boston on Sunday night to throw out the first ball at Fenway Park during the Red Sox-New York Yankees game.
The presidential hopeful received a mixed chorus of boos and cheers. Kerry's pitch to an Iraq war veteran fell short of the plate, but luckily for Beantown fans, the Red Sox won the game 9-6.
In Florida on Monday, Kerry visited the Kennedy Space Center (search), where he told supporters he was visiting "because there is no better place to launch something than right here at Cape Canaveral."
Florida is shaping up to be not as close as it was in 2000, but will still be an extremely tight race.
Kerry, who briefly stopped his motorcade to check on a Brevard County sheriff's deputy who took a spill from his motorcycle while escorting the Democratic candidate, tried to appeal to voters who are reflexive Republicans.
"We've got to lower our voices and listen to each other and start coming up with solutions to problems that don't have a Democratic label, a Republican label, but an American label on them," he said.
Kerry is expected back in Boston on Wednesday night to attend a fireworks display timed to punctuate Edwards' vice-presidential acceptance speech.
The senator’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who is scheduled to speak Tuesday night, told a Pittsburgh newspaper editor to "shove it" after she claimed he misquoted her.
Heinz Kerry was giving a speech urging fellow Pennsylvanians to turn back "sometimes un-American traits" creeping into politics.
Asked by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editor Colin McNickle what she meant by "un-American," she said she "didn't say that" - and later told him, "You said something I didn't say. Now shove it."
Kerry brushed off the incident, saying his wife speaks her mind.
So Where’s Your Seat?
In the FleetCenter, delegate seating has been arranged according to each state's poll numbers. Prime seats have been given to delegates from swing states Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon. Those from safe Kerry states such as California will be taking a back seat - literally.
The very best seats in the house this Thursday - front row, center stage - have been saved for the delegation from the host state of Massachusetts, the state that also produced this election's nominee for the White House.
The week also promised to be a blur of convention parties for delegates, speakers and media - many of which started before the four-day-long event even began.
During the convention festivities, more than 100 speakers will take the podium, with the coveted prime-time slots reserved for a few.
Gore was expected to talk about the 2000 election controversy. The Kerry camp wants former President Clinton to contrast problems with the Bush economy to when Democrats were in charge of the country.
As the Gore camp did four years ago, "the Kerry team this year ... [will] offer some ideas and lay out a template for you and then you offer some ideas and you go back and forth," said Rep. Harold Ford, the Tennessee congressman who was the keynote speaker at Gore's 2000 convention. "It's their theme but your speech."
Scheduling the host of speakers who want their turn at the podium is a delicate business.
"There's a lot of people that want to speak and we try to allow for as many people to speak as possible," said Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. "We clearly have a lot to say."
On Wednesday night, Edwards, who is believed to have lit a much-needed spark under Kerry's campaign, will address the convention.
Campaign spokesman Mark Kornblau said Edwards' speech would outline three themes: who he is and what he has fought for and stands for; who Kerry is and what he's done during his life; and what the two men will do together to change the country.
Kornblau described Edwards' speech as "unique on how positive it will be," as opposed to past convention speeches. Edwards is not likely to mention his opponents by name.
Late Wednesday, the roll call of states will make Kerry the official Democratic nominee
Kerry advisers said that on Thursday, their candidate will hit a personal note and let voters see the passion behind his vision for America. They also said the Vietnam veteran will show voters he's ready to be commander-in-chief in the War on Terror - an issue the incumbent president continues to enjoy an advantage on in the polls.
Democrats said there has been little to no dissension within the party on Kerry's nomination.
"I think it's one of the most unified parties we've had in recent history," said Menendez, who actually has two speaking slots reserved for him on Monday. "It's a coalescence, both against the president's policies ... and it's also a very strong sense of purpose of taking the country in a new direction."
Meet the ‘Truth Squad’
Meanwhile, just blocks away from ground zero for the Democrats, Republicans have set up their own "war room," firing back at their political opponents and organizing what’s being called the GOP’s "Truth Squad."
"We believe that for the next four days, the Democrats are going to attempt an extreme makeover of John Kerry's record in the Democratic Party's rhetoric with a cosmetic convention," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.
Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, a member of the squad, told FOX News on Monday that it’s imperative his party point out discrepancies in Kerry’s voting record and how he’s trying to portray himself as a presidential candidate.
"We are just trying to point out the truth of his 20-year record in the Senate of being a guy who has voted for increasing taxes 350 times. He's for lawsuit abuse. He's for more regulation," Bonilla said. "If you are for that, you’ve got to stand and say, ‘I'm proud to have a record like that.' Don't go before the American people and say, ‘I'm a mainstream guy that should appeal to someone on the corner of Oak and Maple, or any street in America.'"
To combat concerns about voter apathy, some Tinseltown stars like actor Ben Affleck, a Boston native, actor Danny Glover and comedian D.L. Hughley and others are coming out to talk to young people about campaign issues and the importance of voting. The program, called "Power of One," was designed to promote voter turnout.
"Everything is political," Glover said. "And everything that you do you're making a political statement. And when you don't vote you're making a political statement. You're making a political statement by not voting."
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui, Major Garrett, Yolanda Maggi, Caroline Shively, Chris Wallace, Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.