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The 2004 Democratic National Convention was a United States presidential nominating convention that took place from July 26 to July 29, 2004 at the FleetCenter (now the TD Banknorth Gardenmarker), in Bostonmarker, Massachusettsmarker. The convention was one of a series of historic quadrennial meetings of the Democratic Party with a primary focus on officially nominating a candidate for President and adopting a party platform. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson served as chairman while former presidential advisor to Bill Clinton, Lottie Shackelford, served as vice chairwoman.

Defining moments of the 2004 Democratic National Convention included the featured keynote speech of Barack Obama, a Honolulumarker native and candidate for the United States Senate from Illinoismarker and future President of the United States, and the confirmation of the nomination of John Kerry as the candidate for President and of John Edwards as the candidate for Vice President. They faced incumbents George W. Bush and Dick Cheney of the Republican Party in the 2004 presidential election.

The 2004 Democratic National Convention marked the formal end of the active primary election season, although all meaningful primary elections had finished months earlier. Kerry and Edwards faced Carol Moseley-Braun, Wesley K. Clark, Howard B. Dean III, Richard A. "Dick" Gephardt, D. Robert Graham, Dennis J. Kucinich, Joseph I. Lieberman and Alfred Sharpton Jr. in the primaries.

Convention themes

The 2004 Democratic National Convention featured a theme for each day of the convention. The first night of the meeting focused on the theme "Plan for America's Future" with speeches devoted to building optimism for John Kerry's candidacy. The second night of the meeting focused on the theme "A Lifetime of Strength and Service" devoted to John Kerry's biography and his path to his nomination. The third night of the meeting focused on the theme "A Stronger More Secure America" devoted to issues of homeland security and the global war on terror. The last night of the meeting focused on the theme "Stronger at Home, Respected in the World" devoted to the overall agenda of the party to secure the borders, improving domestic welfare while at the same time promoting international cooperation in world affairs. The phrase "Help is on the Way" was often repeated by speakers such as John Edwards.

Party platform

The 2004 Democratic National Convention successfully passed an official party platform. A forty-three page document, the party platform was entitled "Strong at Home, Respected in the World" — also the name of the theme conveyed on the last night of the convention. The first part of the platform was called "A Strong, Respected America". The section defined specific goals and actions to defeat terrorism, to keep weapons of mass destruction from the hands of terrorists, to promote world peace and security, to strengthen the military, to achieve energy independence and to strengthen homeland security. The second part of the platform was called, "A Strong, Growing Economy". The section defined specific goals and actions to create what the party called "good jobs" and "standing up for the great American middle class." The third part of the platform was called, "Strong, Healthy Families." The section defined specific goals and actions to reform the healthcare system in the United States, to improve education and to protect the environment. The final part of the platform was called, "A Strong American Community." It stressed the diversity of the nation and the importance of upholding civil rights as a major tenet of the party.

Boston venue

Beacon Hill and Downtown Boston as seen from Cambridge
The 2004 Democratic National Convention holds several distinctions — the first held in Boston, one of the few held in the home state of the presidential nominee and the first since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During the convention, there was a memorial service to honor the victims of the attacks. Halima Salee, who lost her daughter, son-in-law, and unborn grandchild on American Flight 11, spoke. With its bid to host the meeting, Boston leaders became a target of criticism by residents and businesses while others welcomed the bid with fanfare.

Site selection

After an initial notice to 34 cities, 10 cities requested the RFP to host the convention: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Miami, New York and Pittsburgh. Of those, five cities (Baltimoremarker, Boston, Detroitmarker, Miamimarker and New Yorkmarker) submitted bids, and four cities (not including Baltimore) were visited by the DNC. Boston was announced as the host of the convention on November 13, 2002. [70758]


Counterterrorism measures included regulation of transportation in and out of the city, closure of several major arteries and random baggage checks for the metropolitan train system. Manhole covers were welded shut while garbage receptacles and postal boxes were removed from the streets for fear they would become tempting hiding places for explosives. DHSmarker declared the 2004 Democratic National Convention a National Special Security Event.

Free speech zone

One of the most controversial "counter-terrorism" measures was the declaration of a designated free speech zone for protesters, limiting where and when protesters could exercise their first amendment rights. Protesters through the American Civil Liberties Union mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit for the right to protest outside of the designated free speech zone, which the group claimed was unconstitutional. FleetCenter access promulgated tight security measures that frustrated even the news media. Credentials enabling reporters to enter and exit the meeting became the subject of strict rules forbidding the act of borrowing and sharing such passes, a common practice for the major media outlets in the past.

Protesters inside the "free speech zone" drew parallels to Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-Ray, and staged a demonstration in which they wore hoods akin to those worn by Abu Ghraibmarker detainees. Many demonstrators simply refused to enter the "free speech zone."

Police union

Other Bostonians took advantage of the meeting as a national stage for specific agendas. The police union, for example, gained attention with threats of picketing of delegates from entering and exiting functions — a dilemma for Democrats as the party has traditionally been an ally of organized labor. Having worked without a contract for two years, the police union struck a deal with Boston mayor Thomas Menino for a new contract, avoiding a major embarrassment for the party.

Barack Obama's keynote address

State Senator Barack Obama delivered the convention's keynote address on Tuesday, July 27, 2004. Obama, who was then a candidate for the United States Senate from Illinoismarker and, prior to the convention, was unknown to much of the public outside his adopted home state, was enthusiastically received by the delegates, who waved blue-and-white campaign signs and chanted his name.

As the keynote speaker, Obama set the tone for the party platform. His speech, proclaiming the unnecessary and artificial divides in American culture and politics, was reminiscent of John Edwards's "Two Americas" stump speech: "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America—there's the United States of America." Obama emphasized the importance of unity, and made veiled jabs at the Bush administration and the news media's perceived oversimplification and diversionary use of wedge issues: "We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states, and yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America." [70759]

Obama noted his interracial and international heritage: he was born in Honolulu, Hawaiimarker to a Kenyanmarker immigrant father and a white mother from Kansasmarker. He emphasized the power of education, recounting the privilege of attending the exclusive Punahou Schoolmarker and Harvard Law Schoolmarker despite his family's poverty, and criticized the perception that poor black youths who read books are "acting white." He went on to describe his successful career in law and politics while raising a family in Chicagomarker. "In no other country on Earth is my story even possible," Obama proclaimed. Towards the end of his speech, he emphasized the importance of hope in the American saga, and he illustrated how that hope manifested itself in the lives of John Kerry, John Edwards, and even his own personal life, as "a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too." According to Obama, the "audacity of hope" is "God's greatest gift" to Americans, allowing him to feel optimistic that the lives of average Americans can be improved with the right governmental policies. [70760]

Obama's performance led to much speculation as to his place in the party and the nation's future. After Obama had left the stage, media commentators, panels of historians and political scientists on the major television networks began explicating what many began calling the "Obama phenomenon" — in Illinois and elsewhere in the country. It was pointed out that many in Illinois openly discussed Obama's future as a possible presidential candidate, especially evident in his ability to capture white votes like no other racial minority candidate had ever done in downstate Illinois. Obama would win his own race for a United States Senate seat from Illinois in the fall of 2004, and some say that the resulting fame and publicity from his keynote address allowed Obama to win the Democratic nomination and the Presidency in 2008, just four years later.

Edwards's address

Not yet formally nominated for the Vice Presidency, John Edwards took the stage at the Convention to give the first major national speech of his political career. Delegates raised red-and-white vertical "Edwards" banners and chanted his name. The theme of Edwards's address was the divide between the "two Americas," his populist message throughout the primary campaign and now one embraced by Kerry. He tied the division to his own roots in North Carolinamarker, and introduced his family to the audience. Edwards addressed his parents from the podium: "You taught me the values that I carry in my heart: faith, family, responsibility, opportunity for everyone. You taught me that there's dignity and honor in a hard day's work. You taught me to always look out for our neighbors, to never look down on anybody, and treat everybody with respect."Edwards went on to define the two Americas he claimed to exist, one for the rich and one for the poor, and repeated several times that "It doesn't have to be that way." He called for one health care system, equal in quality to the coverage received by Senators and other elected officials, and promised to establish a Patients' Bill of Rights. Edwards proposed one public school system for all, arguing that "None of us believe that the quality of a child's education should be controlled by where they live or the affluence of their community." He appealed for the end of the two economies, "one for people who are set for life, they know their kids and grandkids are going to be just fine, and then one for most Americans, people who live paycheck to paycheck." Edwards also stated how the Democrats expected to pay for their agenda: "We're going to roll back -- we're going to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And we're going to close corporate loopholes. We're going to cut government contractors and wasteful spending. We can move this country forward without passing the burden to our children and our grandchildren."

Many pundits noted that while Edwards's charismatic style was in evidence, he had rushed through the speech, ending several minutes earlier than planned. The delegates in the FleetCenter, however, were enraptured, and Edwards led them several times in a statement-response chant: "Hope is on the way." This, and the general upbeat tone of the address , was a response to attacks by the Bush campaign claiming that Kerry and Edwards were pessimistic and cynical; it was altered and echoed the next day in the more detailed speech of John Kerry: "Help is on the way."

Kerry's address

The suspense over Senator Kerry's arrival was built up by his daughters' testimonial about growing up with Kerry as their father. [70761] Their speeches were followed by a short video of selected highlights of Kerry's life: his birth in Coloradomarker, his childhood in New Englandmarker, the travels with his diplomat father to post-World War II Germanymarker, and his heroism in Vietnammarker's Mekong Delta, interspersed with clips of Kerry speaking and narrated voice overs. After the video's conclusion, and with Kerry's navy crewmates standing across the stage, former U.S. Senator Max Cleland delivered a speech proclaiming that the global conflict and active wars in Afghanistan and Iraq required a decorated military hero such as Kerry in the White Housemarker. Kerry then entered from the back of the hall, greeting delegates and shaking hands as he moved to the front. To cheers and applause, Kerry gave a military salute and announced, "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty!" After a brief, impassioned introduction of himself, Kerry formally addressed the delegates: "With great faith in the American people, I accept your nomination for President of the United States."

Kerry's acceptance address was widely compared by media pundits to the progressive-era speeches of President Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated the social welfare programs characteristic of American liberalism, but also supported strengthening American military power and nationalistic patriotism. The speech, analysts added, attempted to portray the Democratic Party as masculine, even macho — much like the Republicans have historically presented themselves. Kerry stressed his qualities as a warrior and his ability to wage war when needed, a need to expand and modernize the armed forces, and a need to increase the size of special forces divisions. Alluding to the Bush administration's having fired Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki for demanding a peacekeeping plan before going to war in Iraq, Kerry also stressed the need to heed the counsel of generals. [70762]

Media analysts also characterized Kerry's speech as closer in style to a sitting president's State of the Union Address than those historically given by candidates at nominating conventions. Kerry listed specific proposals for programs and legislation, and offered a way to pay for them. He promised to train 40,000 new active duty troops, to quickly implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, to cut the national deficit in half within four years, to cut middle class taxes while repealing the Bush administration's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 per year, to stop privatization of Social Security, and to embrace science over religious dogma, especially with regards to stem cell research, which the Bush administration has constrained. He issued a promise to improve homeland security measures and quality of living: "We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdadmarker and closing them down in the United States of America." Kerry received criticism from some liberals for the Democratic platform's perceived evasion of abortion rights and gay rights, while others alleged that Kerry's plans too vague. On the whole, however, the address was well-received, and pundits found that Kerry's forceful delivery had made the normally dour candidate more appealing.

On the day after Kerry's speech, George W. Bush's reelection campaign launched a counterattack on the claims and promises made by Kerry and others at the convention. At a campaign stop in Springfield, Missourimarker, Bush told a crowd: "My opponent has good intentions, but intentions do not always translate to results." [70763] He went on to attack Kerry's Senate record: "We heard a lot of clever speeches and some big promises. After 19 years in the United States Senate my opponent has had thousands of votes but very few signature achievements." [70764] White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan added to the criticism, saying, "[So] I think the senator from Massachusetts is a walking contradiction." [70765]

Other speakers

In addition to the Obama, Edwards, and Kerry addresses, there were also speeches from former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former Vice-President and 2000 Presidential nominee Al Gore, New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Ron Reagan, son of Republican President Ronald Reagan, also spoke at the Convention, blaming Bush's hijacking of his father's legacy for his switch in support to the Democrats.

Results of delegate voting

In the days before the convention started, the other candidates withdrew, freed their delegates and officially endorsed Kerry. All the delegates voted to ratify this decision and vote for Kerry, except those of Kucinich, who attempted to vote for Kucinich anyway. Many states refused to let them do so, and only permitted them to register abstentions. The final tally went thus:


Democratic National Convention presidential vote, 2004
Candidate Votes Percentage
John Kerry 4,253 98.40%
Dennis Kucinich 43 0.99%
Abstentions 26 0.60%
Totals 4,322 100.00%

Vice president

Lack of convention 'bounce'

Polls conducted after Kerry's speech showed no significant increase of support (or "convention bounce") for the Democratic nominee's bid to unseat President Bush. Democrats ascribed the disappointing numbers to an unusually polarized electorate that year with few undecided voters, though Bush did get a small bounce out of his convention.

Demonstrations and protests

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich speaks out against the Iraq War.
Tom Hayden urges anti-war activists to continue efforts to organize.
There were a number of demonstrations during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The stated objective of the protesters was to put pressure on the Democratic Party to oppose the U.S.-led occupation of Iraqmarker, as well as protests from activists dissatisfied with the moderation of the ticket and platform as well as Republicans who support the incumbent president and his pro-war policies. Many of the demonstrators were anarchists and others focused on long term change, apparently unimpressed with the mild or conservative policies of certain Democrats. Many activities were festive in nature. The Blck Tea Society organized the Really Really Democratic Bazaar, a festival with free food and music which was held on July 27.

Small scale street demonstrations escalated on the final day of the convention and Boston police tactical teams composed of hundreds of officers appeared in full force. That afternoon, an anarchist group called the Black Tea Society convened outside FleetCenter and called for "decentralized direct action." Their protests were denounced by city officials lacking permits to march. A local Critical Mass group bicycled through Boston as a form of protest to what they believed to be a political party that turned its back on what they describe as the party's traditional ideals.

That evening a group of peace activists held a peaceful rally a few hundred feet from the FleetCenter. Local Boston politicians were joined by presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and long-time activist and California state senator Tom Hayden in a call to end the occupation of and to remove U.S. troops from Iraq and to bring in an international peacekeeping force.

The first major protest was held on the Sunday evening before the meeting convened at FleetCenter. An estimated 2,000 anti-war members marched at the same time that approximately 1,000 anti-abortion activists congregated. The same anti-abortion group had their permit revoked to protest outside of the Kerry family home. They challenged the decision and a federal judge banned them from any such demonstration.

On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Convention adopted the party's platform, the Democrats for Life of America rallied outside Faneuil Hallmarker and in front of the statue of Samuel Adams. They cheered the great advances pro-life Democrats had made in recent years and decried the new party platform. In 2000 the party's platform included big tent language, saying: "The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party." In 2004, however, the platform closed the big tent saying "We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine" Roe v. Wade, implying that all who were pro-life were Republicans.

The most publicized protest happened on the final evening as various groups collaborated and marched through the Boston financial district and civic center. They arrived at the FleetCenter where they burned a two-faced effigy of President Bush and Kerry. Protestors stomped on the figures as copies of Bush's autobiography were also heaped into the fire. Hundreds of police officers wearing full riot gear — helmets, shields and batons — outnumbered protestors as they monitored the demonstration.

See also


  1. 2004 Democratic Convention Speakers List
  2. Transcript of Edwards' speech
  4. Cynthia L. Webb, Democrats Get Wired in Boston, Washington Post, July 26, 2004, accessed May 15, 2007.
  5. CBS News: No Convention Bounce for Kerry
  6. USA Today: So why did Bush, not Kerry, get the bounce?
  7. Democratic National Convention
  8. Strong at Home, Respected in the World

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