Bringing a little Florida sunshine to Boston

Published July 26, 2004 12:56PM (EDT)

As Democrats formally convene today in Boston, John Kerry will be campaigning in Florida, where one new poll shows him moving ahead of Bush but another shows Bush maintaining a narrow lead.

In a poll of likely Florida voters released by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Florida Times-Union over the weekend, Kerry led Bush 49-44 in a two-way contest and 47-44 with Ralph Nader in the race. The margin of error is four points. In a new Gallup poll released Sunday, Bush led among likely Florida voters 50-47. The margin of error for both polls is 4 percent.

Sen. Bill Nelson, who is campaigning with Kerry Monday in Cape Canaveral, chose to accentuate the positive Sunday. What does Kerry have to do to win in Florida? "Just keep doing what he's doing," Nelson said. That means staying upbeat and looking forward, but all the while keeping memories of Florida 2000 at least a little bit alive.

"This convention will be positive," Nelson said, even if many of the delegates -- and particularly those from Florida -- remain bitter about 2000. "They're upset, understandably so," he said of Florida's Democrats. "And you know, they better stay upset to make sure they're not disenfranchised this time."

Still, in this regime-change-with-a-smile convention, even some Floridians are determined to move past the anger from 2000. Outside the Florida delegation's hotel, former Attorney General Janet Reno seemed to speak straight from Team Kerry's optimism talking points. The candidate will win over voters in Florida by emphasizing his "personal profile of public service," Reno told Salon. Democrats don't want a convention filled with venting and anger, she said. "They're looking for a convention that will give them an understanding of the issues and more of an introduction to John Kerry."

That's not to say that Reno isn't angry herself. During testimony before the 9/11 commission, her successor, John Ashcroft, blamed the terrorist attacks at least in part on Reno-era policies that kept a "wall" between intelligence agents and criminal investigators. In its final report, the commission explained that Ashcroft's deputy, Larry Thompson, largely reaffirmed those same policies in August 2001 -- a month before the terrorist attacks.

Does Reno feel vindicated? "This isn't about vindication," she said. "I hope we can work together now in a bipartisan fashion and realize that we have a terribly difficult adversary on our hands and we need to work together every step of the way." While Ashcroft's testimony -- and the White House's reluctance to embrace the 9/11 commission's recommendations -- suggests that the Bush administration may not be ready to work on terrorism in such a bipartisan way, Reno added: "I hope that will change."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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