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Inside Politics

Obama, Heinz Kerry star for Democrats

Centrist image still dominant

By Carlos Watson

Obama provided a strong argument for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
Watch Carlos Watson on CNN during the DNC. He is scheduled to appear Monday through Thursday during the 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET programs.
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CNN's Carlos Watson reviews Day 2 of the Democratic Convention and previews Day 3.
Day Three: Wednesday

• Theme:
"A Stronger, More Secure America"

• 4 p.m. ET: Session opens

• 7-9 p.m. ET: Speakers include Elijah Cummings, John Edwards' daughter Cate, Bob Graham, Dennis Kucinich, Ed Rendell

• 9 p.m. ET: Speakers include Bill Richardson, Jennifer Granholm, Claudia Kennedy

• 10 p.m. ET: Elizabeth Edwards introduces her husband, John Edwards for his keynote address
Carlos Watson
The Inside Edge

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- As the Democrats moved from the old to the new, a pair of strong performances Tuesday boosted their effort to build a case not only for the Democrats, but also for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

While Monday was a chance for Democrats to showcase their party stalwarts and successes of years past, Tuesday marked the party's first concerted attempt to talk about the future, most notably from the mouths of Teresa Heinz Kerry and Barack Obama.

And it was a successful night for the Democrats, in terms of their effort to find a dynamic image not dominated by old, familiar faces. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the Democratic convention)

Obama, a Senate candidate from Illinois, gave the best Democratic keynote speech in the last 30 years -- better even than Mario Cuomo's in 1984, Ann Richards' in 1988 or Barbara Jordan's in 1976.

From economics to racial stereotypes, he sounded fresh, original and broad. And until Heinz Kerry came up to speak, he offered up the convention's best argument yet on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

Minutes later, Heinz Kerry gave a strong performance that will probably engender a divided response around the country.

For Oprah-esque fans, she came across as confident, unabashed and global. She shared her personal story: from the daughter of a doctor to a trained translator to a grateful immigrant to the wife of two senators.

Heinz Kerry also talked policy, specifically about the environment, women's rights and health care. And she offered a clearly loving tribute and salute to her husband, John Kerry.

The night's other speakers were generally liberal, but somewhat muted as Kerry continues to put forth a centrist image for the Democratic Party.

Sen. Ted Kennedy was not as insistent as he was in 1980 or 1988. Former Democratic front-runner and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and Ron Reagan, the late president's son, were solid but forgettable.

The only other speech that merits mention is the one by Chris Heinz, Kerry's stepson. In introducing his mother, Heinz -- like Obama -- offered a younger, fresher speech. He dared Republicans to criticize his mother, called her good looking and gave a truly substantive review of his mother's life and accolades.

Concise, energetic and smart, he will undoubtedly be a strong candidate if and when he runs for office in the future.

Heinz, Heinz Kerry and Obama all presented a strong contrast to the speakers Monday night, when former President Bill Clinton and others began to discuss what a Kerry administration might bring.

Although they have their admirers, there was also plenty of fatigue with Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, who shared the limelight opening night.

I don't think this is all that unusual. When you introduce yourself, you've got to say that there is something different here. So the Democrats are looking for people and views that are forward-looking.

President Bush had similar thinking in 2000 when -- rather than rely on former Secretary of State James Baker or former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft -- he went with relatively fresh figures such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Four years ago, Democrats also featured several new faces, including Reps. Harold Ford Jr. and Patrick Kennedy, and Karenna Gore Schiff -- all in their 20s and 30s, and all coincidentally from established political families.

Kerry needs to say that, if I win, there will be a whole new set of Democrats whom you don't know yet, that there will be a breath of fresh air.

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