From wire reports
BOSTON -- Former President Clinton stirred the opening night of the Democratic National Convention Monday with a summons to send John Kerry to the White House, attacking President Bush for pursuing policies that divide the nation.
"Strength and wisdom are not opposing values," Clinton said of the man who followed him into office.
"They need a divided America but we don't," the former president said of the Republicans who have held power for four years.
The 42nd president was the cleanup speaker for the night, joining a parade of party elders to the podium for oratory designed to depict Kerry as a war hero -- and George W. Bush as a failed president.
The Massachusetts senator "will lead the world, not alienate it. Lower the deficit, not raise it. Create good jobs, not lose them. Solve a health-care crisis, not ignore it," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in her turn at the podium.
"John Kerry is a serious man for a serious job," she said, her direct role restricted to introducing her husband for a prime-time TV audience. "In 1992 and 1996, Americans chose a president who left our country in far better shape than when he took office. He showed Democrats how to win again. And so will John Kerry."
The party's 44th national convention opened under extraordinarily tight security as Kerry campaigned in Florida. In a battleground state he has visited more than half a dozen times this year, he urged Republicans and independents to "stop and think" before casting their votes in November.
With the Kerry campaign choreographing the proceedings to the minute, the famous and the nationally unknown were put in service for the Massachusetts senator's White House bid.
"Lt. Kerry was known for taking the fight to the enemy," said the Rev. David Alston, who served on a Vietnam swiftboat commanded by Kerry a generation ago. He brought the delegates to their feet when he called the senator "my former skipper, my friend and our next commander in chief."
The first night of the convention included only muted references to the social issues that divide America. "John Kerry and John Edwards won't prevent you from getting the reproductive health care you need," said Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said Kerry will guarantee the right to family health benefits to all our families -- including domestic partners.
Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the White House, urged Democrats to "fully and completely" channel their anger of the bitter Florida recount and send Kerry to the White House.
"When policies are clearly not working, we can change them. If our leaders make mistakes, we can hold them accountable -- even if they never admit their mistakes," Gore said.
But he also showed a biting sense of humor. "I don't want you to think I lie awake at night counting and recounting sheep," he said to laughter and cheers.
Former President Carter, elected to the White House in 1976, accused Bush of squandering the international goodwill that flowed to the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism," Carter said.
Kerry runs even to slightly ahead of Bush in the polls, and Republicans dispatched a team of surrogates to the Democrats' convention city to try to slow his campaign momentum. "The Extreme Makeover Convention," they called it, deriding the senator as a liberal trying to run from a record of more than two decades in Congress.
Donna Brazile, who managed Gore's campaign, suggests Bill Clinton -- the only Democrat to win re-election as president in the last 50 years -- will be more welcome on the 2004 trail than he was in 2000.
"There's no question that Senator Kerry will benefit from having both Clintons out there," Brazile said.
The future, not the past
Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chairman, discounted the former presidents ability to boost Kerry's campaign: "Elections are about the future, and not the past."
But if turning out core Democratic supporters in contested states such as Florida, Ohio and Iowa is critical this year, Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer said, the Clintons can do it: "Both Bill and Hillary gin up the base."
"Kerry's folks probably recognize that any negative impact Clinton has will be there whether he is involved or not," said John McGlennon, professor of government at The College of William and Mary.
Still, Hillary Clinton poses at least one problem for Kerry -- the question of her 2008 ambitions.
"They don't want a lot of speculation about whether she would be a candidate, should Kerry lose," McGlennon said. "They don't want any speculation about the possibility of losing this election."
What passed for controversy at the Democrats' unified convention was stirred by Kerry's wife. She told a persistent reporter on Sunday to "shove it" when he urged her to expand on her call for more civility in politics.
"I think my wife speaks her mind appropriately," Kerry told reporters who asked about the exchange between Teresa Heinz Kerry and the editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.