Delegates' advice for Kerry

They share tips, from'smile big' to 'more jobs.'

Be clear and repetitious on the stump.

Pick some members of the cabinet before November.

Smile more. Show your fire. Talk about healthcare, jobs, the economy, Iraq. And please - come to my town.

As they flow out of Boston's FleetCenter to pack their bags and head home, delegates who attended the 2004 Democratic National Convention have a lot to say to their new nominee.

Some admit that maybe - just maybe - they didn't care enough about winning in 2000. But this time? This time they want it so badly you'd think Democrats had been out of White House power for a generation, not four years.

So, to improve the chances of victory in November, there are a few teensy improvements they might like to see in their candidate. Delegates interviewed on the floor of the convention were full of advice for John Kerry, in the spirit of constructive criticism, of course.

Most of them, anyway. "There's nothing [he needs to do]!" says Allene Maynard of Providence, R.I. "He's got it in the bag already!"

If there was any main theme from the group surveyed, it was that the Kerry campaign needs to focus, pick a message, and hammer it home.

Consider the opinion of DyShaun Muhammad, a member of the Minnesota delegation who works in marketing for General Mills. He talks about what he thinks Senator Kerry needs to do, using the lingo of middle-management America: "I am always hoping Kerry [will] choose his brand, make sure it accurately reflects the product he's going to deliver ... and talk about it religiously, consistently, and without fault."

Translation: Tell your story to the people, concisely.

Mr. Muhammad and a number of other delegates also refer to Kerry in executive terms, saying that they want him to project the image of the US top boss.

Asked what he'd tell Kerry about the situation in Iraq, first-time conventioneer Ernest Gadson from New York says, "I would ask him to get the people to [handle] that. He would be the CEO, Mr. Kerry, and give those people the resources to bring the troops home."

Honesty is the best policy, says Mr. Gadson. "America has been lied to enough.... Tell us what we need to do to bring the troops back."

On the subject of foreign affairs, a number of delegates think Kerry can win votes by emphasizing how alone America appears to have become in the world. The US needs to get back to having friendly exchanges with other countries, says Georgine Guillory, a second-time delegate and port commissioner from Texas. "The Bush administration has scared everyone," she says.

Resplendent in a star-spangled cowboy hat and red jacket, the Texas delegate frames her opinion about the current state of US political affairs with vintage Lone Star language.

"So I say to Bush, take the hat and boots off and quit riding the bull," Ms. Guillory says. "And come on down here and listen to the American people. We are not crazy."

Many delegates believe that Kerry needs to loosen up a bit, get rid of the "dead-dry Senate-speak," in Guillory's phrase, and project the image of a real person. This may conflict with the advice to act more like a CEO (see above), but whoever said the Demo-cratic Party was consistent?

Derry Hooks, a retired middle-school teacher from Cincinnati, credits Kerry with being sincere, but adds that the Democrats need to reach out to Ohio Republicans who are disenchanted with Bush. If offered a chance to lunch with the Democratic nominee, says Mr. Hooks, he would tell him, "Run on your record."

From there advice splintered into individual, specific suggestions. Take Kathy and Joe Carney, from Livingston County, Mich. She's a bookkeeper and party chair of the Michigan 8th Congressional District. He's an electrician and chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party.

They want their ticket to name cabinet picks early. "The key people, so they can tie things up," says Joe. Among their suggested department secretaries is former presidential candidate Howard Dean. "Dr. Dean, for Health and Human Services. It's the perfect spot, don't you think?" says Mrs. Carney.

They also like another former presidential hopeful, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, both of whom they offer as possible secretaries of defense. Kerry "should pick some of the Cabinet so [voters] can see how things would come together," says Mr. Carney.

Individual issues? Healthcare is the most mentioned, far and away. Virtually every delegate had a personal story about a medical-related financial problem they or a friend had struggled through.

"Not just youngsters and college students but families are barely scraping by and can't afford healthcare," says Edna O'Neill Mattson, a delegate from Rhode Island.

Health care is a "huge" issue in Texas, adds Johnson County Democratic Chair Gayle Ledbetter. But so is education. "Classroom size is a big issue. A lot of our teachers are of retirement age. We don't have teachers coming in to fill those [spots]," says Ms. Ledbetter.

As to how Kerry might win their own particular area, most delegates had a simple, and simply impractical, suggestion: Come on down! If John Kerry visited all the towns of all the delegates he'd have little time left for other campaign pursuits.

But as the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a Boston Democratic icon, famously said, all politics is local - and many delegates dream wistfully of a local Kerry appearance that would exemplify that truism.

"Shake our hands, look us in the eye," says first-time delegate Kelly Sanchez, from Mississippi. "We're not going to bite."

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