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Inside Politics

Kerry comes through in the clutch

Democratic nominee's substance, delivery on the mark

By Carlos Watson

Kerry's speech focused mainly on the economy and the war in Iraq.
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CNN's Carlos Watson grades Sen. John Kerry's speech and the DNC.
John F. Kerry

(CNN) -- Coming into Thursday, John Kerry knew what he had to do.

And if he didn't hit a home run, he at least had a stand-up triple -- or a 25-point game if you're a basketball fan, or a three-touchdown performance if you're into football. Kerry did what he needed to do.

The Massachusetts senator was confident and clear. He sounded out ideas on a number of key issues -- among them, that he won't raise taxes for individuals with incomes below $200,000, that he would increase the number of troops, that he'd spend more on education.

It certainly helped that he was set up well. The film about him, his "band of brothers" (13 of his swift boat crewmates from Vietnam) standing behind him when he came on stage, former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia (who was disabled in the war) introducing him -- it all made for a very effective background.

If you didn't know Kerry before, you knew him afterward. The whole package, including the remarks by his family and friends, provided necessary insight into Kerry, the man.

The speech itself had a very relaxed tone. Kerry made his points, but he did not come across as harsh or negative. He came across as likable, well-informed and tough. John Kerry delivered.

Bottom line, I believe these strong speeches strung together -- first former President Bill Clinton, then keynote speaker Barack Obama, vice president pick John Edwards on Wednesday, and Kerry on the final night -- all of that will ultimately produce a strong, single-digit jump in the polls.

And by the way, Kerry needs every bit of that advantage.

Just look at 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis or any number of other candidates who left their nominating conventions with a lead: So much can happen between now and November.

I wouldn't be surprised if most of the bounce Kerry gets out of this convention fades by the time the Republican convention rolls around in late August.

Until now, the Bush-Cheney team has spent most of its time doing two things. First and foremost, defending the administration's actions since the president came into office. And No. 2, trying to highlight what opponents see as inconsistencies in Kerry's record versus what his campaign is saying.

Now, you'll see President Bush devoting an entirely different amount of energy to not only continuing to do those things but also to describing his agenda and vision for the future.

One interesting thing will be whether the president accepts the agenda of "key issues" laid out at the Democratic convention -- things like Iraq, the military, health care, the economy -- or if he tries to shift the conversation and make other issues such as social security or education more important.

In another twist, the Democrats took a page out of Clinton's book: taking your opponent's ideas and embracing them as your own.

You could see it in speakers talking about Kerry being a uniter and not a divider, delivering an optimistic message about what America can be and addressing the "values" issue head-on.

The raw truth is that we just don't know how this election will turn out in terms of the number of undecided voters. From the polls, we know that people are paying attention -- 2 out of 3 now, versus about 50 percent in 2000 -- and people think this election matters.

And people can change their mind: Just ask Howard Dean, who went from being a clear front-runner in the Democratic primaries to being a distant third in Iowa in a matter of weeks. If Osama bin Laden is captured, if the economy sputters -- either could change the course of this election.

But the Democrats can take heart in that they had a very, very successful convention -- with four "A" speeches in a row.

Kerry had to do more than just offer an alternative to Bush. Ultimately, going up against a politically savvy wartime president, he had to offer an appealing choice.

Thursday night he started to convince that he was presidential. Everything went to plan, and Kerry delivered.

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