Dec. 7, 2003 -- Five minutes into a tough-talking
stem-winder that had Florida's Democrats at their
state convention here wildly cheering and waving
their signs, U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry was suddenly
recapturing the coveted mantle of leadership from
hard-charging former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
the moment - and it was a long one - the Dean
challenge that has at least temporarily eroded
his standings in New Hampshire was on the back
burner, and the John Kerry that supporters had
been hoping for was a living, leading fire-breathing
dynamo on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
may have been one of the most memorable speeches
of his long career in public life -and coincidentally
one that may have legitimized the use of the word
"ass" in public discourse - was just a 40-minute
crescendo in a long concert of political music
that has yet to end.
by Wesley Clark, the retired General whose political
allegiances are under scrutiny, and then by a
barn-burning blast at the President from Howard
Dean, and then by a passionate and radical Rep.
Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic presidential primary
season had descended on Florida, the hurt and
longing state where everything went wrong the
last time around.
at the Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom resort
called Coronado Springs, it was a convention of
5,000 political animals determined to undo the
perceived errors of the Bush administration -
one hand-drawn sign in a corridor of the Disney
resort dubbed its leader "Bush: The Lyin' King"
- and they demonstrated enough enthusiasm to do
resort's cavernous Coronado ballroom (seating
4,000 people) overflowed into a companion hall
with another 1,300, both of them so packed so
virtually every available space on both floors
and the corridors outside were jammed with people.
Many of them seemed unusually keen to answer,
as John Kerry noted, President George W. Bush's
challenge to "bring it on."
one person in the audience, a professor of history
and the future in Coral Gables, was named G.W.
Bush. He told The American Reporter that he thought
a handwritten question he submitted for an evening
Q&A session featuring Kucinich and Dean got tossed
in the trash.
the nation's top political writers looking on,
a lot of press releases probably got the same
treatment. Like fodder for compare-and-contrast
essays in a high school English class, the candidates
got up and gave their stump speeches, got up and
gave their polished answers, got up and mingled
with supporters - and repeated themselves dozens
reminded everyone that several of his opponents
had voted for the U.S.-Iraq war resolution. Kucinich
again told the story of visiting bereaved families
of dead Vietnam soldiers as a young newspaper
courier in Ohio; Clark again reminded everyone
that he had the military experience to lead a
nation at war.
it was Kerry who offered the big surprise with
a speech that opened big and kept on climbing.
He had been lackluster or just not challenged
at an earlier Q&A, but after wolfing down some
lunch in a campaign salon and making a mad dash
to the restroom trailed by an entourage a dozen
strong, he seemed renewed. The effect was palpable
in the audience, and lingered late into the night
as buzz at the resort's busy bars and restaurants.
also had an announcement, though. With not as
much drama as Eisenhower offered when he declared
in 1951 that "I will go to Korea," and considerably
less than Anwar Sadat demonstrated when he announced
in 1977 that he would visit Israel to seek peace
with Menachem Begin, Dean declared that he would
send former President Bill Clinton to the Middle
East to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
you may remember, lost the momentum for peace
at the Wye River Conference on the Middle East
in 1998 after he kept Palestinian Prime Minister
Yasser Arafat waiting while he dallied with Monica
Lewinsky. Dean also said - twice - that he thought
the key to peace in the region was to cut off
money going to the Middle East for oil, apparently
on the presumption that the United States could
do without gas.
idea is fully tested at this stage and many that
the delegates heard were unfinished concepts.
Dennis Kucinich went so far as to say he wanted
"to create a new nation." But what would he call
they study their choices, Florida Democrats may
be thinking that so far, the campaign has come
down to a choice Kerry and Dean, and it was dramatically
clear at the demonstration that accompanied Dean's
entrance into the evening session that the "mo"
was with him.
will Dean fade, as Sen. John McCain did, after
a rousing victory in New Hampshire? Or will a
stronger organization than McCain had bolster
Dean all through the primary season, or at least
through the March 9, 2004, Florida primary? Will
farmers who back Dean in Iowa prove influential
enough carry liberal Southern California?
the reduced impact of the early primaries in New
Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, it's not clear
that a candidate will be in place before the convention;
it's hard to imagine Californians wanting the
same man they want in Charleston and Waterloo.
In fact, Dean told The American Reporter in a
brief interview that, as AR Correspondent Randolph
Holhut wrote recently, he is much more conservative
than people think.
am - that's true," he said. "Most people think
I'm a raving liberal. I balance budgets. That's
something this President hasn't done."
Floridians have to ask themselves a little deeper
question. Will their admiration for the Dean organization
- whose political theorists use words like "a
counter-factual" to describe their ideas - give
way to a deeper affinity for the long strides
John Kerry has taken in Senate battles over war
and peace, labor and health, civil rights and
education, core Democratic values he has championed
there and in the memory of so many who heard a
young "Winter soldier" fight the Vietnam War to
a close, here, on American soil?
Joe Lieberman will come to Walt Disney World on
this Sunday morning, bringing yet another choice.
Sen. John Edwards had little impact yesterday
but may capture South Carolina. Ambassador Carol
Mosely Braun - an insider's choice for Vice President
- didn't come and seems out of the race, and the
Rev. Al Sharpton, whose campaign is a bad joke,
was in front of the appropriate audience on Saturday
Floridians do have one other thing on their minds.
That's the future of their beloved U.S. Sen. Bob
Graham. Thousands of them wore "Thanks Bob!" pins
all day to support the first presidential dropout,
but he is very much a presence - a warm, honest,
caring man who was almost too good for the primaries.
and again on Saturday, Democrats asked if his
name appears on their short list of possible running
mates. He does, said Dean. He does, says Kerry,
trying not to pander to the crowd but clear that
Graham - now retiring from the Senate and a former
governor of Florida - meets the first test: he's
qualified to replace a president.
a brief chat with The American Reporter, Sen.
Graham was invited to spend a day working on this
publication. He admitted that it was one of the
few jobs he's never tried - he's done dozens of
such stints all over the state for years, and
became a fierce advocate for Florida workers in
he might observe, the long primary season may
not end in Florida or anywhere else but on the
national convention floor. And there those who
count numbers will meet those who count hearts,
and America will start to make its choice.
Copyright 2003 Joe Shea The American Reporter.
All Rights Reserved.
Posted: December 8, 2003