DENVER – As John Kerry (search) winds his way across the country and ultimately to Boston to accept the Democratic presidential nomination next week, he'll be talking more about something he hasn't discussed much in his campaign — John Kerry.
Kerry's campaign has been more about what President Bush has done wrong and which policies Kerry would implement to do better. Kerry does not typically open up about himself personally, and it's part of the reason Americans don't know much about him.
Many Democrats say he needs to reveal more of himself if he's going to win over voters. Besides, they say, his biography may be his best asset — particularly his lauded service in the Vietnam War.
But the Bush campaign has spent millions of dollars on ads criticizing Kerry's voting record that may leave more voters with the impression that he's a flip-flopper than the Democrat's preferred identity as a war hero. Kerry's mission at the Democratic National Convention (search) is to try to change that impression.
Kerry's primary identity has been as a Massachusetts senator with 20 years of votes, some that Kerry touts and some that President Bush has tried to use against him. During the convention, Kerry hopes to move beyond his Senate voting record to define himself as a husband, father, combat veteran, tough prosecutor, national security expert, outdoorsman and man of faith, according to a campaign message document.
Kerry was kicking off his pre-convention tour Friday at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colo., where he was born 61 years ago in December and lived for his first three months. At a speech later in Denver, Kerry planned to talk about the values he learned from his parents.
His father, Richard, volunteered to serve during World War II and was stationed in Colorado when Kerry was born. His mother, Rosemary, led his Boy Scout troop, volunteered at a hospital and started a recycling program before they were a community staple.
"My father helped me understand at an early age that we are all put on this earth for something greater than ourselves, and that's something my mother taught me too," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday. "Through the power of their example, they both taught me that one of the most fundamental values in life is service to others. That's why I'm here, that's why I'm running for president and that's how together we're going to build a stronger America."
Both of his parents are now dead. Kerry choked up when ABC News anchor Peter Jennings asked him in an interview Thursday if he wished they could be there to see him get the nomination next week.
"Yes," Kerry said as he composed himself. "It's sad."
This is an emotional side of Kerry that he rarely shows publicly. At campaign stops he often asks voters personal questions about their health, their age and even their income, but he doesn't reveal much about his own feelings or share personal stories. He usually leaves that duty to people who campaign with him, including his children, his wife and his former Navy crewmates from the Vietnam.
Those loved ones were to be with him at his kickoff Friday, along with running mate John Edwards and his family.
Kerry communications director Stephanie Cutter said the convention and the events leading up to it give Kerry a chance to tell the voters "what's in his heart."
"By the end of the week, they'll have a sense of who the man is," Cutter said.
Kerry's stump speech has been harshly critical of Bush, but Cutter said the next week he will remain positive and focused on showing voters how he will make the country safe and secure.
The Kerry campaign does not want the convention to turn into a repeat of a celebrity fund-raiser two weeks ago in New York City, where Kerry ultimately distanced himself from the sometimes lewd Bush bashing from the performers. Cutter created bright red laminated pocket cards, which she distributed to Democratic members of Congress to carry around the convention with each day's upbeat message.
"I don't know if you can ever control completely what anyone says," Kerry told USA Today for a story in Friday editions. "But obviously we are trying to encourage people to be as positive as they can be. Some may stray."
After the convention, Kerry and Edwards plan a two-week coast-to-coast tour through 21 states via bus, train and boat. The campaign announced Friday the tour would begin July 30, and in the first days stop in Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.; Dearborn, Flint and Grand Rapids, Mich.; Newburgh, N.Y., Zanesville and Bowling Green, Ohio; Scranton, Harrisburg and Greensburg, Pa.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Milwaukee, Wis.
Later the tour will go through Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. The campaign has not yet released the cities that Kerry and Edwards will visit in those states.