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Balloons and Confetti a Nominating Convention Make

Just five days ago, John Kerry’s pitch at Fenway Park didn’t make it past home plate, but his pitch last night to the Democratic National Convention was a home run. Your Crystal Ball will spare you the barrage of cliches reserved for the headlines of today’s newspapers, but Kerry was a bit eloquent and personal at a time when he needed to strike a chord with his viewers. It’s hard to imagine him flubbing this one–as we argued on Monday, Kerry had a 99.9 percent chance of succeeding last night.

With a new Annenburg Public Policy Center poll showing equal favorable and unfavorable marks for Kerry among persuadable voters, the Massachusetts senator had to connect his life story and his vision for the country while making voters comfortable with him as president. He did just that by weaving a focus on national security with a promise that “our best days are still to come.”

This is not to say that Kerry’s acceptance speech was the best thing since sliced bread. On stage Kerry looked a bit sweaty, his hand gestures a bit rigid, and his timing was a bit rushed. He even seemed a bit modest every time he raised his hands and repeatedly thanked the crowd when their cheering caused him to pause. In a veritable clip show of past conventions, John Kerry retooled the phrases of Roosevelt (“The future doesn’t belong to fear, it belongs to freedom”) and Kennedy (“We can do better, and we will”). And with no disrespect to the Democratic nominee, he plain stole the Bush-Cheney motto, “Help is on the way.” That wasn’t all he took from the Republicans. While his speech was all over the place, one major theme was that the Democrats wanted to unite the country and Bush has divided the country. In 2000, the GOP claimed it was just the opposite.

While the speech attempted to define Kerry, his values and his vision, it also gave the Republican “Extreme Makeover” team some ammunition leading up to their convention in late August. “I ask you to judge me by my record” was a plea to look at his decorated service in Vietnam, but short of a mention of his work “across the aisle” with Senator John McCain, he wasn’t invoking his Senate voting record. Why would he? His National Journal ranking puts him so far to the left he makes Ted Kennedy look like a moderate. In this age of sound bites, it is a foregone conclusion that his opponents will make use of that line and ask voters, “Seriously, judge him by his record.” After all, it came from the horse’s mouth.

Kerry also called on President Bush in the weeks ahead to “be optimists, not just opponents. Let’s build unity in the American family, not angry division.” He continued, in a reference to the President’s call for a constitutional definition of marriage, to never misuse the Constitution for political purposes–a rhetoric that has drawn cheers from the delegates all week long. All of this for him to claim that he has taken the high road in the campaign.

Yes, at face value, the Kerry campaign has taken the high road in the campaign and left the negative advertising to Bush. Of course it is easy to take the high road when you have mudslingers in Democratic 527s, Michael Moore, and

With all the talk of values (“American values,” “shared values,” “our values”) has he invited some discussion of his own values? On abortion, on gun control and on the death penalty Kerry’s values, while shared by many, are certainly not “American values” on the whole.

His job tonight wasn’t to make a laundry list–a la Al Gore in 2000–but to get the crowd going and to have his night. A month from now George W. Bush will have his hour of convention spotlight in much the same manner. Like Kerry, he’ll have the right tie, a well prepared speech, and enough balloons and confetti to make us all wonder how this summer’s need for party supplies hasn’t made the GDP rise a point or two.

While it was inevitable that Kerry would receive the Democratic nod, the Crystal Ball couldn’t help but hope for Dennis Kucinich to garner enough votes to warrant a second ballot Wednesday night. It would have been the first time that has happened, in either party’s nominating convention, since 1952. In today’s era of scripted conventions, the most controversial moment of the past week might have been Barak Obama’s talk of one America and John Edward’s insistence that there are two Americas.

However, when push comes to shove and the first post-convention poll hits the papers, the Kerry-Edwards ticket will probably see a healthy bounce. Not as high as Clinton’s 16 points in 1992, but probably somewhere around six points-the Gallup average since 1964. Come Nov. 2, the Kerry acceptance speech will be just a footnote, regardless if he wins the White House. This race is still close enough that we’ll all have to wait until the fall to see how it plays out. But fear not, the Crystal Ball will roll up to New York a month from now to catch the sights and sounds of the Republican National Convention.

CNN Joins the Company of Cheney and Theresa

For those of you watching CNN’s coverage of the convention last night, you may have noticed an angry Democratic convention producer shouting for more balloons and less confetti. There were also some choice words minced in there that prompted an apology from Wolf Blitzer. This is all anecdotal, but it is illustrative of today’s nominating conventions: only with the right mixture of balloons and confetti can a convention truly be called successful.