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Kerry's platform to stand on

Democrats united on statement of policies, priorities


(CNN) -- Although the moment barely registered at the Democratic convention, the passage of this year's party platform offered voters a clear indication of where party presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry stands heading into November.

In a nearly empty hall on July 27, convention chair Bill Richardson stepped up to the podium soon after the 4 p.m. opening. Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, called for a voice vote on whether or not accept the Platform Committee's report in full, got a largely positive response -- there were a few stray "nays" -- and the platform became official.

The rather anticlimactic episode capped an exhaustive process marked by public forums and private debate, in which Democrats showed uncommon unanimity in rallying behind Kerry and his agenda.

The party began building its platform months before Kerry emerged from a crowded primary field as the presumptive nominee. Even with the late start, the four-term senator's campaign team helped a party committee draft a relatively moderate, national security-heavy platform without the rancor that has defined such debates in years past, according to several published reports.

This election's Democratic platform contains 207 amendments, articulated in 16,000 words -- a light and easy read by historical standards. The Democrats' 2000 platform, for example, chimed in at about 25,000 words, itself well short of that year's nearly 35,000-word GOP platform.

The final platform largely reflected Kerry's agenda and slammed President Bush's national security and economic policies. Nearly half of the draft focused on national security, a departure from previous platforms.

The draft resembled the party's 2000 platform, but dropped references to full support of the Kyoto global warming treaty and the death penalty.

Public, private process

Initial platform planning began in 2003, but the process did not heat up until early this spring.

On March 26, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe appointed three co-chairs of the 186-member platform committee: Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones; former Los Angeles mayoral candidate and California State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa; and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

In mid-May, McAuliffe named Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro as chairwoman of a 15-person drafting committee. That group was responsible for writing the document for approval by the full platform committee and, eventually, by convention delegates.

The party also held a series of public forums to discuss what policies and language should be part of the platform. The party Web site featured an online form for comments as well as an e-mail and mailing address for people to send their thoughts.

The first two events, held May 22 in Portland, Oregon, and June 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, focused on "securing our homeland" and "protecting America's national security."

Former President Ronald Reagan's death prompted the cancellation of the June 11 economic-issues forum in Columbus, Ohio. The drafting committee heard comments on that subject, plus health care, Social Security, Medicare, civil rights, energy, the environment and other issues in the final forum, held June 18-19 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

At that forum, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson urged the committee to address education, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius emphasized health care, and Wisconsin Gov. James Doyle called for a new stem cell research policy, according to The New York Times.

Stemming dissent

A week later, the full platform committee met in Hallandale, Florida, and approved a 35-page draft.

Some committee members aligned with Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an antiwar candidate who has not abandoned his bid for the party's presidential nomination, wanted the platform to brand the Iraq war a "mistake" and promise a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops. Instead, the committee reached a compromise, writing that U.S. military support would be reduced when appropriate "so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence."

The platform was approved at the convention in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 27 -- well before the party's top speakers that night addressed delegates and, not coincidentally, the day most major TV networks decided not to feature prime-time coverage.

Unlike conventions past, there was no extensive debate of the platform as the party sought a smooth, efficient, dissent-free convention. Democrats learned that lesson the hard way in 1972, when prolonged platform debate delayed nominee George McGovern's acceptance speech until after most viewers had gone to bed for the night.

"Increasingly, the party leaders structure the convention to eliminate that possibility," said Indiana University political science professor Marjorie Hershey. "They don't want any slip-ups.

"The result, ironically, is that doing so eliminates the possibility of suspense. So as the parties responded to the media, the media has responded to cutting back their coverage."

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