Stateline Story

Convention 2004 - Virginia and Veterans Are Election Targets

The buzz at the Democratic National Convention is that the Kerry-Edwards ticket sees a fighting chance of winning Virginia for the first time in 40 years, potentially turning the Old Dominion State into the newest battleground state. But don't look for Virginia's Democratic Gov. Mark Warner to come out swinging against President Bush.

Warner told Stateline.org that he won't be "a firebrand attack dog" taking on Bush. Warner will restrain his campaign rhetoric because he just became chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association, the group that attempts to speak for all the nation's governors.

"I'll do all I can to support John Kerry but ... it's very important for the NGA to have credibility with whoever is president," said Warner, who is to address the convention Thursday night. "If President Bush is re-elected, I want to make sure the governors still have that seat at the table in terms of working with his second administration."

But Kerry might take a page from Warner's playbook on how a Democrat can win in Virginia and maybe other conservative states in the South, which uniformly went to Bush in 2000. Warner said he won the governor's office by targeting gun owners, NASCAR fans and other non-traditional Democrats. "I think there is a message that if you can do it in Virginia, you can do it in the rest of the South," he said in an interview on an empty convention floor one morning this week.

War and politics

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack says he hopes a Kerry administration would overhaul the military's heavy reliance on part-time soldiers called up from states' National Guard units. "We absolutely have to have a different direction with our National Guard. Our men and women in our National Guard and employers are being asked to do so much," Vilsack told Stateline.org. Besides being chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, Vilsack also is co-chair of Kerry's platform committee.

Democrats are counting on discontent with the Iraqi war to peel off veterans' votes from Bush in key states. A record 500 veterans are among the 4,353 delegates to the convention, according to the campaign, and special caucus meetings were held to solidify a veterans' voting bloc for Kerry, whose service in Vietnam won him three Purple Heart awards and launched his political career when he testified before Congress against the Vietnam War.

Indeed, one the reasons Virginia could be within reach for Kerry is that it has the largest concentration of military veterans of any state, according to Gov. Warner. Veterans question whether President Bush has a plan for finishing the job in Iraq and for enlisting partners in the global war against terrorism, he said.

If it ain't got that swing ...

All states are not created equal at the 2004 convention. Life is sweeter for delegates from swing states such as Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and more than a dozen other battleground states. Better seating on the FleetCenter convention floor; fancier party spots; primo hotels, jazzier speakers at delegation breakfasts.

Florida, the mother of all battleground states, is one spot on the political map that Kerry hopes to swing from Republican "red" to Democratic "blue" in 2004. Its delegation acknowledges it's been treated to front-and-center convention seats and the "A++" list of breakfast speakers: A Kerry step-son, a Kerry brother, a Kerry sister, filmmaker Michael Moore, and Hollywood stars Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin and Richard Dreyfuss. Its perk pack included $82 complimentary tickets to a live performance of the "Lion King" at the Opera in Boston.

Meanwhile, delegations from small and hopelessly "red" states get a side view of the convention proceedings from the cheap seats above the convention floor. Alabama, where Bush won in 2000 by 15 points, is in a far corner of the arena with a worse view of the speaker's podium than the delegations of Guam and the Virgin Islands.

During Alabama's breakfast Wednesday, Paul R. Hubbart, secretary of Alabama's Education Association, roused his fellow delegates to a standing ovation when he pledged to spearhead the first statewide Alabama-run Democratic presidential campaign since 1976. "We're not getting any money from the national party, so we need to be ready to dip into our own pockets," Hubbart said, pledging to contribute $2,000.