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Inside Politics

A reinvigorated Kerry looks ahead

Democratic nominee tries to personalize image

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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Kerry's speech appeared to be as much about humanizing his image as it was about drawing policy distinctions with President Bush.
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Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry addresses the DNC
Kerry speech (Part 2)
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CNN's Carlos Watson grades Sen. John Kerry's speech and the DNC.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark speaks on behalf of Kerry.
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- John Kerry's big night, in which he accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, was a reinvigoration of sorts for a man who came close to seeing his White House dreams evaporate last year.

"Thank you, thank you, all of you, for a welcome home I will never forget," a beaming Kerry declared Thursday night, as the U.S. senator from Massachusetts basked in the cheers and chants of delegates at the Democratic National Convention who appeared eager to applaud his every word. (Read transcript)

Celebrated for four days at this tightly scripted and remarkably unified convention, Kerry's campaign, it would be easy to forget, had virtually tanked at the end of 2003.

His campaign stumbled badly in the fall, trailing far behind Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, in numerous polls. Two weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, he was behind Dean by double digits.

But after overhauling his campaign in Iowa, he won the caucuses there, captured New Hampshire and went on to steamroll his Democratic opponents.

"Thank you for teaching me and testing me," Kerry said to his former rivals.

His coronation as the Democratic standard-bearer complete, Kerry tried Thursday to connect with voters in personal terms, reaching beyond the passion evident in the FleetCenter to the uncertainty many Americans feel about this presidential race -- and about Kerry himself.

Part of that presentation was a polished biographical video -- "A Remarkable Promise" -- that included warm testimonials from friends and family.

And his two adult daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry, offered loving tributes to their father before he came onto the stage.

In his speech, Kerry, 60, talked about his first baseball mitt and bicycle, his "den mother" and World War II pilot father, his days as a young prosecutor in Massachusetts and most of all, his Navy service during the Vietnam War.

Kerry recalled being on a "gunboat patrolling the Mekong Delta" and talked about "the lessons learned in war."

Kerry's decorated military record has been a key feature of his campaign, highlighted by fellow veterans who have joined him on the stump and introduced him at this convention.

"An extraordinary band of brothers" is how Kerry described them as he cast himself as a man who knows the horrors of war, but someone not afraid to fight again or defend the nation.

"Let there be no mistake," Kerry declared. "I will never hesitate to use force when it is required."

Kerry's victory in winning his party's presidential nomination is a high point in a political journey long in the making.

His ambitions were evident decades ago, the subject of ribbing in a 1971 series of Doonesbury strips. In that series, Kerry, who at that time had returned from Vietnam to become an outspoken critic of the war, was portrayed as a confident, ambitious man with big dreams.

Kerry's acceptance speech appeared to be as much about humanizing a sometimes cool and aloof image as it was about drawing policy distinctions with President Bush.

And he defended his reputation as a politician who can split hairs or appear to be all over an issue by taking aim at President Bush.

"Now I know that there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities -- and I do -- because some issues just aren't all that simple," Kerry said.

"Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished doesn't make it so."

Even as Kerry took clear delight in his reception Thursday night, he made it clear that the fights that took him to this point pale in comparison to the battle ahead -- trying to unseat an extremely well-financed White House incumbent with rock-solid support in his Republican base.

"We're not finished," Kerry acknowledged. "The journey isn't complete. The march isn't over. The promise isn't perfected. Tonight, we're setting out again."


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