BOSTON – John Kerry (search) was ready to get the party started.
Looking out over a vast expanse of empty seats in what he called a "great hall," the Democratic presidential nominee said Thursday: "This is great. Can we do it now?"
Kerry scoped out the FleetCenter before noon, one step in his preparation for his speech later in the night, when he formally accepts the nomination to run against President Bush in November.
He stood at the podium to get a glimpse of the view and appeared to be giving one of the stage managers suggestions about camera positions.
Kerry was on stage for about 15 minutes before departing. His spokesman said the nominee was going to head home; he later took a bike ride. He's due back at the FleetCenter in time for his 10 p.m. EDT address to the 44th Democratic National Convention (search).
Part of the speech will emphasize what Kerry says is his strong resolve to deal with terrorists and enemy states.
"Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military," Kerry will say in his speech, excerpts of which were released.
Thursday night's show is the culmination of a four-day rally where party loyalists have been pumping up the man they hope can not only take the White House, but help win back the U.S. House and Senate.
The Massachusetts senator on Wednesday night collected more than enough votes — in fact, all but a few dozen of the 4,353 delegate votes up for grabs — to clinch the party’s top prize.
On Thursday, convention delegates officially made Kerry's running mate, John Edwards (search), the Democratic nominee to be vice president.
Edwards was out early Thursday trying to swell the momentum for Kerry's speech. He had breakfast with delegates from Wyoming, Alabama and his home state of North Carolina, thanking them for their chants of support the night before.
"Do exactly the same thing for John Kerry," he urged. "The truth is, we can't do this without you. We need you out there working, organizing, getting people to the polls."
Edwards will also be leading the cheerleading when he hosts a conference call Thursday evening with an estimated 200,000 Americans who are attending more than 5,000 convention watch parties in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. The parties are a chance for people to root collectively for Kerry as he formally accepts the Democratic nomination for president.
A poll taken by National Journal of Democratic insiders at the convention Wednesday showed that many of them do not expect a big bounce from the convention. Thirty-three of the 42 insiders said they expected a bounce of either 0 to 3 or 4 to 6 points.
Changing the Nation's Course
Leading up to the main event was a series of speakers who will take turns at the podium trying to whip up the crowds into a motivated frenzy.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (search) called the convention to order at 4 p.m. EDT. Following that, speakers such as former Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan, Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Barbara Boxer of California, as well as Washington Gov. Gary Locke and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume filled the early hours with talk of national security, trade and the need for sound economic policy.
But the issue of gay marriage wasn't completely lost in the state that launched the controversial debate about whether same-sex couples should be recognized. Massachusetts recently made history as the first state to legally recognize gay marriages.
Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, an openly gay member of Congress, said it's the Democratic Party that can help further the gay community's agenda.
"We want all people in the United States to enjoy the same legal rights as everyone else, unless they have forfeited them by violating the rights of others," Frank said, including "the right to express not only love for another person, but a willingness to be legally as well as morally responsible for his or her well-being."
Former Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan said Kerry and Edwards will provide America with "a clear vision and a clean start."
"Democrats will go forth this night under a new banner fired by purpose and principle, " she said. "Like the patriots of old, we Democrats may look like a rag-tag bunch. But like them, we are infused with high resolve and uncommon courage."
Noting that 229 years ago just a few miles from the FleetCenter, the shot heard "'round" the world" announced a nation was about to be born, said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin.
"Tonight, from this place, a strong voice will be heard around the world, proposing to change our nation's course," said the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "John Kerry understands that just as the administration has squandered the budget surpluses of three years ago, so have their current 'go-it-alone' foreign policies squandered the good will of much of the world and estranged us from our allies."
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume made a point to say "it appears" that his organization's request to speak at the Republican National Convention, to be held next month in New York City, will be denied.
Bush got into hot water with the NAACP earlier this month when he declined to address the group after its chairman condemned the administration's policies on education, the economy and the war in Iraq.
"We join John Kerry, John Edwards and fair-minded Americans everywhere in reaching out today, to others, different in race, different in religion and different in heritage, to join together as a new coalition of Americans seeking to bring full meaning to our birthright, by bringing hope, strength and equal opportunity to all," Mfume said.
As has happened during the past three days of events, delegates adorned with Kerry-Edwards pins, T-shirts, cheesehead hats and even red, white and blue nail polish likely will be dancing in the aisles in between speakers to tunes designed to get Thursday’s party started.
The Republican P.O.V.
On Thursday, Republican strategist Jim Dyke told FOX News that the GOP.com Web site crashed Wednesday because it was overloaded with viewers who wanted to see the video Republicans have crafted pitting Kerry's statements against one another in an effort to demonstrate what they say are clear flip-flops in position.
The video, said Dyke, "is a stunning refutation of the notion that Senator Kerry would be a strong leader, and the most powerful rebuttal to Kerry is Kerry himself."
Dyke said Kerry's "evolution on his position on Iraq" — Kerry and Edwards voted to send troops to Iraq and later voted against an $87 billion supplemental bill to pay for their extended stay there — is the most obvious example of his indecisiveness.
"We think this is a great show. They're putting on a stunning convention, but it seems they are running away from Senator Kerry's position [rather] than embracing it."
Republicans pointed out several areas in which Bush has acted to improve Americans' lives, particularly in health care, education, the economy, veterans affairs and nonproliferation.
Bush was heading from Texas to Washington on Thursday; the president spends less than 12 hours in the White House before heading to Missouri at dawn Friday.